An odd tale about a famous film director who winds up in Sicily videotaping a princess's wedding, Italo vet Marco Bellocchio's "The Wedding Director" promises much more than it delivers in a disappointingly weak finale. Pic's dream-like surrealism and inconclusiveness will enchant some viewers while disorienting others, making pic's commercial prospects, even boosted by critical support, less than rosy beyond the fest circuit.
Film follows the strikingly modernist vein of Bellocchio's "The Religion Hour" (aka "My Mother's Smile," 2002) and "Good Morning, Night" (2004), while failing to communicate the clear vision of those movies. Though it tosses out dozens of tantalizing leads, it lacks a central idea to tie them together -- even in the loose style of the previous films.
About the only consistent thread in the pic is cinema itself. Bellocchio quotes movies in practically every scene, from silent films like Rene Clair's "Entr'acte" to Luchino Visconti's Sicilian classic "The Leopard."
Some of the film's funniest bits are at the beginning, as director Franco Elica (Sergio Castellitto) dispiritedly prepares to shoot an adaptation of hoary Italian lit classic "The Betrothed." While casting hopefuls wait in what assistant director Micetti (Maurizio Donadoni) calls "the crematorium," Elica misses a chance to meet would-be actress Bona Gravina (Donatella Finocchiaro).
Script's narrative links are as flimsy as a bridal veil, including how and why Elica ends up in a scenic Sicilian town as the guest of professional wedding vidmaker Enzo Baiocco (Bruno Cariello, likable) and his sultry wife (Simona Nobili). Elica is invited by the haughty but bankrupt Prince of Gravina (Sami Frey) to film his daughter's arranged marriage to a rich lawyer.
The daughter, of course, is Bona. Elica falls madly in love with her and becomes intent on sabotaging the union.
Far from becoming any clearer -- is Elica dreaming all this? -- pic becomes progressively more surreal. Elica's hesitation about consuming his passion for Bona; his paranoia about being called a rapist; the recurring phrase "In Italy, the dead command" -- all these remain enigmatic and unexplained, though aficionados of Bellocchio's films may draw links with his regular themes and obsessions.
Helmer's well-known repugnance for the Catholic Church comes over in two church wedding scenes, the first an excruciatingly awful modern ceremony, the second full of Sicilian haute bourgeoisie hypocrisy.
Looking perpetually unshaven and suspicious, like a character out of a historical novel, Castellitto ("The Religion Hour") gropes for the right key in which to play the contradictory Elica. Finocchiaro gives her natural intensity an ironic edge as the mysterious princess, while French thesp Frey is delightfully histrionic as her father.
In the key supporting role of Smamma, a frustrated filmmaker who pretends to be dead to win the prizes that have always eluded him, Gianni Cavina gives voice to a generation of Italo directors less talented or fortunate than Bellocchio.
Bellocchio's usual tech crew, headed by d.p. Pasquale Mari, gives the film a luscious, slightly over-the-top look suitable for dreams and fairy tales. Sicily's stunning backdrops are strung together to create an island halfway between stereotype and mythology. Riccardo Giagni's score also mixes in references to pop, folk and classical.
Camera (color), Pasquale Mari; editor, Francesca Calvelli; music, Riccardo Giagni; production designer, Marco Dentici; costume designer, Sergio Ballo; sound (Dolby Digital), Gaetano Carito. Reviewed at 01 screening room, Rome, April 12, 2006. Running time: 105 MIN.