Black Sea

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Venue: Locarno International Film Festival

LOCARNO, Switzerland -- A clash of cultures and generations gives way to understanding and friendship in Federico Bondi's touching "Black Sea" ("Mar Nero") in which a grouchy Italian widow slowly bonds with her young Romanian caregiver. Acclaimed Italian star Ilaria Occhini and Romania's Dorotheea Petre make a lasting impression in a variation on the odd couple theme. Petre was named best actress in the Cannes sidebar Un Certain Regard for "The Way I Spent the End of the World" in 2006.

Full of gentle wisdom and the fresh air of New Europe, the film's fine acting and general warmth will endear it to festival and art house audiences everywhere.

Petre plays Angela, who arrives with very little Italian to take care of the elegant but permanently disgruntled Gemma (Occhini), whose aches and pains are made worse by desperately missing her beloved late husband. Guileless and patient, Angela lets the old woman's unpleasantness bounce off her as she gets on with her job, never losing her temper and sticking up for herself when she needs to. Gradually, she wins not only Gemma's trust but also her affection.

Their relationship deepens the more Gemma learns about life in Romania and sees the young woman's devotion to the man she loves, Adrian (Vlad Ivanov), back in Romania. When Angela learns that Adrian has been fired from his job and has gone missing, Gemma decides they must embark on a trek to find him.

Bondi and co-writer Corso Salani let the pair's relationship flourish slowly with some amusing misunderstandings and observant exchanges. Cinematographer Gigi Martinucci's expertly captures the interplay of the two actresses with Occhini's radiant beauty and intelligence shining through her character's initial truculence and Petre's fresh-faced honesty matching her line for line.

Bondi clearly has great sympathy for the plight of migrants from countries new to the European Union. His scenes showing the Romanian celebrations when joining the EU are as bright and alive as his two accomplished stars.

Production company: Film Kairos. Cast: Ilaria Occhini, Dorotheea Petre, Vlad Ivanov, Maia Morgenstrern, Corso Salani. Director, screenwriter: Federico Bondi. Screenwriter: Ugo Chiti. Producer: Francesco Pamphili. Executive producers: Giorgia Priolo, Marina Spada. Director of photography: Gigi Martinucci. Production designer: Daniele Spisa. Music: Enzo Casucci, Guy Klucevsek. Costume designer: Alessandro Vadala. Editor: Ilaria Fraioli. Sales agent: Intramovies. Not rated, 95 minutes.

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