Basilicata Coast to Coast -- Film Review

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ROME -- Actor Rocco Papaleo's directorial debut is being billed as a musical comedy, but it's more a loving tribute to the southern Italian region from which he hails, one that even Italians consider God-forsaken. "Basilicata Coast to Coast" is sweet and simple, sometimes overly cutesy, but it ambles out of mind as easily as it ambles in.

The locally well-known cast (including singer Max Gazze in his screen debut) will draw some interest at home. Beyond domestic borders, the film holds little appeal. Its strongest point is that it isn't overly picturesque, which is not what international audiences usually want from Italian road movies.

Four small-time musicians decide to cross their home region on foot, in 10 days, to reach a music festival on the eastern coast. Their little odyssey is captured by a reluctant, unhappy journalist (Giovanna Mezzogiorno, whose performance picks up as the film progresses), who is sent out to "chronicle this anachronism."

The group's goal is to get away from everything (no cell phones, no contact with the "real world") and see what happens in the process. Naturally, small but life-changing lessons await them all and love even blossoms.

Nicola (Papaleo) is a married, fortysomething teacher whose wife runs a chic hotel, but his life is going nowhere. Handsome and kitschy Rocco (Alessandro Gassman) was a star on local TV but, after moving to Rome, his showbiz career has gone nowhere. The youngest of the bunch, Salvatore (Paolo Briguglia) is a mild medical school dropout unlucky in love, while Franco (Gazze) stopped speaking years ago, after his fiance died in a car accident.

This is by no means a relocated "Under the Tuscan Sun"-- no huge dramas or beautiful people abound. Instead the characters the group encounters (a lively bride-to-be, her overprotective brother and various villagers) are slice-of-life glimpses into the region's human fauna and add gentle bizarreness and humor. One particularly comical, surreal scene involves a group of local thugs on horseback, decked out in typical folkloric dress and wearing motorcycle helmets.

The music is good -- an alchemy of jazz, swing and funny spoken word -- that was written for the most part by Papaleo and arranged by world renowned pianist Rita Marcotulli. The protagonists play it themselves, giving Papaleo numerous opportunities to weave in an interesting soundtrack against a backdrop of Basilicata's canyons, dirt roads and barren landscapes.

The cast is solid with the light material, but Gazze's restrained expressions and gestures slowly evolve into something more profound as he and Mezzogiorno melt away each other's hard exteriors.

Opens: April 9 (Italy)
Production companies: Eagle Pictures, Paco Cinematografica, Ipotesi Cinema
Cast: Rocco Papaleo, Alessandro Gassman, Alessandra Mezzogiorno, Paolo Briguglia, Max Gazze, Claudia Potenza, Michela Andreozzi
Director: Papaleo
Screenwriters: Papaleo, Valter Lupo
Producers: Arturo Paglia, Isabella Cocuzza, Mark Lombardo, Elisabetta Olmi
Director of photography: Fabio Olmi
Production designers: Sonia Peng, Elio Maiello
Music: Rita Marcotulli
Costume designer: Claudio Cordaro
Editor: Christian Lombardi
Sales: Eagle Pictures
No rating, 105 minutes
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