Monday, August 27, 2012

2012 Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: Magnifica Presenza [Magnificent Presence] (Ferzan Ozpetec, 2012)

Magnificent Presence, screening as part of the line-up for the 2012 Lavazza Italian Film Festival, is a strange genre combination from director Ferzan Ozpetec (who co-penned the screenplay with Federica Pontremoli), but a pleasant and lightly entertaining film. It is a gentle, wry and charming, if unfocused, ghost tale about the friendship between Pietro (Elio Germano), a 20-something aspiring actor, and some unexpected houseguests he acquaints himself with in his new Rome apartment.

The story opens with Pietro and his cousin Maria (Paola Minaccioni) inspecting the apartment. It is a creepy old building full of history and a quick tenant turnover and Pietro accepts the reasonable price offered. Having settled in, he prepares for auditions by day, bakes croissants as a temp pastry chef by night and tries to turn his hapless love life around by inviting a young man around for dinner. Just as we learn Pietro's secret - he's a bit of a sad, lonely and a tad obsessed - he learns the secret about his new place.

Having already had several experiences with strange phenomena - finding his belongings in different locations - his series of run-ins with the ghostly inhabitants initially give him a shock. These scenes are actually pretty creepy. Over time he begins to acquaint himself with the jovial and well-dressed troupe, learning they are in fact a company of theatre actors from the 40's who died in the house under mysterious circumstances. As they sympathetically assist with his own casting call prep, he decides to do some digging into the past.

The journey Pietro takes to learning of their fate is an odd one. A visit to the transsexual underworld reveals that an aging diva (Anna Proclemer), who he tracks down, may have knowledge of their fate. In the process he also enlists their help to overcome his romantic problems - a sparkle-eyed neighbor and the group's writer seem to take an interest in Pietro - and give him audition tips. Pietro joins them for board games in his living room, and when revealing the truth fills them in on worldly developments. This sequence here got a big laugh, and the laughs are quite consistent throughout.

With an endearing and likeable lead character - and it was unique to see a gay protagonist - and a charismatic performance from Germano, Magnificent Presence tells a heartwarming tale and concludes with a genuinely moving, crowd-pleasing finale. Pietro's personal development as a result of the relationships he builds with each of the ghosts is the focus here, and though there are several underdeveloped subplots and the story takes some silly meanderings and too long to progress to the important dramatic stages - the Fascist atrocities that resulted in the company's premature demise - this central premise is charming enough to keep a patient audience intrigued. For Pietro, he finds himself amongst the most comfortable crowd of his life and grows emotionally along the way. It is a handsomely lensed if unspectacular looking film, but it should give audiences a lighter option to break up some of the darker, edgier films on the schedule.

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival commences in Sydney on Thursday, September 20.  

Magnificent Presence is screening at Palace Norton Street on Fri 21st Sep 4.15pm and 9.00pm, Wed 26th Sep 8.30 for 9.00pm (Special Event - check the website for details), Fri 28th Sep 1.30pm and 9.30pm, Mon 1st Oct 6.45pm, Sat 6th Oct 9.15pm and Mon 8th Oct 6.30pm.

Magnificent Presence is screening at Palace Verona on Sat 22nd Sep 9.00pm, Wed 26th Sep 1.30pm and 6.45pm, Sun 30th Sep 4.15pm, Wed 3rd Oct 9.00pm, Thurs 4th Oct 1.45pm and Mon 8th Oct 9.00pm.

Magnificent Presence is screening at Chauvel Cinema on Thurs 27th Sep 8.30pm, Sun 30th Sep 6.00pm, Thurs 4th Oct 6.00pm and Wed 10th Oct 3.00pm.


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