Saturday, September 3, 2011

Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: Nessuno Mi Puo Giudicare [Escort in Love] (Massimiliano Bruno, 2010)

Escort in Love, playing at this month’s Lavazza Italian Film Festival, with its breakneck pace, funky soundtrack, charming and likable ensemble cast and witty visual gags, is a step above most mainstream sex comedies. For example, I wish the recently released French ‘comedy’, Beautiful Lies, had possessed this much fun. Not surprisingly, because it is light, easy viewing, Escort in Love has been popular in Italy, gathering nearly 12 million on its initial run. While I expect the audience to be predominantly women, I imagine it will do well here in Sydney too. 

This is the sort of screwball comedy that had it been made in America I would have likely tuned out pretty quick. But because there is that unashamed European quirkiness to it – and honestly it feels like a French film – you give it a few extra chances. Luckily, it delivered plenty of laughs, and though it stuck to a common formula and provided few surprises, the quality central performances, and the awareness of director Massimiliano Bruno to deftly address themes of class division, unemployment, racism and homosexuality in Italian culture, is commendable. 

Alice (Paola Cortelessi, who received a David di Donatello actress award for her performance) is used to living a life of luxury at her husband's lavish villa in the north of Rome. The smart-mouthed, disrespectful tart suddenly finds herself facing debtor’s prison and the loss of her 9 year-old son Fillipo (Giovanni Bruno, the director’s son) to social services after her husband is killed in a motorcylce accident, leaving her with his hefty debt to repay. Unable to afford her current high standard of living, she accepts the offer of one of her former employees and moves onto the rooftop of a building in Rome’s multiethnic working-class Quarticciolo neighbourhood.

The difference between her wealthy estate and the slum-like main street are accentuated to the extreme, of course. Alice has been brought down a peg or two and entered her own 'Wonderland' and while initially struggling to adapt to the change of scenery, soon finds her posh values being altered by the friendly and interesting locals, who welcome her with open arms and help take care of her son, who, despite finding it difficult to fit into the public school, enjoys the change. Can we can assume Alice will soon realise that her life has been changed for the better too, that she will soon revel in the working class lifestyle and even find a new lover? Well, yeah.

But here's the twist, in need of some swift cash, she has nowhere to turn but the socially abhorrent profession of escort work. She enlists the assistance of Eva (Anna Foglietta), a high-priced escort (1,000 Euros a night) she befriends, to give her a physical transformation and provide her with some much-needed confidence and fashion tips. It’s awkward, but it's all quite over-the-top, and I can’t say it wasn’t amusing to some degree. She also grows to accept the charming advances of Guilio (Raoul Bova), the owner of a local Internet cafe, despite Eva's advice about never falling in love.

The film is hyperactive, the soundtrack pumps throughout and everything is endowed with this over-the-top style, but Bruno does draw some nice, grounded performances and the comic timing hits the mark more times than not. There are also some amusing, if unnecessary subplots filtered throughout. One involves an elderly local who gradually reverses his prejudices when he finds himself attracted to a Senegalese woman and finds out that his son is gay. The other involves Guilio's depressed employee who is repeatedly tried to be won back by his girlfriend, who cheated on him with a football player. During the musical number that accompanies the closing credits you realise just how many characters have been seamlessly involved in the story, and while the social commentary is a little unsubtle at times and the montage featuring Alice with an array of clients is wishy-washy and silly, this is jolly good fun.

Escort in Love in playing at Palace Norton Street on Monday 19th September (8.30pm), Friday 23rd September (7.00pm), Tuesday 27th September (1.30pm) and Tuesday 4th October (9.00pm)

It's also playing at Palace Verona on Friday 16th September (7.00pm), Thursday 22nd September (6.45pm) and Thursday 29th September (6.45pm)

You can also see it at Chauvel Cinemas on Thursday 22nd September (1.00pm) and Sunday 25th September (1.00pm)

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