Puccini e la Fanciulla

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Additional Venice Film Festival reviews

Venice Film Festival, Out of competition

Paolo Benvenuti makes stylized, non-naturalistic works that get little theatrical distribution in his native Italy. Apart from drawing in interest from a smattering of cinephiles and opera lovers, the experimental, near-silent "Puccini e la Fanciulla" is likely to be no exception, despite a renowned central character in composer Giacomo Puccini (played by Riccardo J. Moretti, principal guest director of the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra).

The film is structured around letters found in a recently unearthed suitcase (by, among others, Benvenuti), as well as two silent home movies of the musician, which followed the festival screening.

The letters disclosed that as Puccini was composing "The Girl of the Golden West" his maid Doria (Tania Squillario in a stand-out performance) committed suicide. Accused by Puccini's wife Elvira (herself a philanderer) of having an affair with the maestro, Doria was apparently only the messenger between the musician and his actual lover, Doria's cousin Giulia (Federica Chezzi).

In almost every scene, metronomes, ticking clocks or rhythmically clanging machines keep constant time for the music, which throughout runs counterpoint to the action. An accomplished painter and musician, Benvenuti uses sharp angles, chiaroscuro lighting, long hallways and the natural beauty of Tuscany to create canvas-like frames through which his actors move, for the most part wordlessly. The few times the characters do speak it is in voice-overs, as they read the aforementioned letters, or in a flat stage whisper that weakens the overall effect of a silent movie.

However, what exactly the film wants to achieve is hard to pinpoint. Offering no analysis of Puccini's music, his presumed genius or even his person, adding to the formalistic mix is a narrative structure whose predictability jars within a context intended to be unconventional. Even worse, the lack of an emotional anchoring of the characters renders virtually all but Doria superficial and unlikable, Puccini most of all.

Constantly chomping on his cigar as he struts between his piano and his lovers, the composer apparently did little to save an innocent young woman from despair. Nor does Giulia show the slightest bit of remorse over Doria's predicament - or chemistry with her lover for that matter.

Production company: Arsenali Medicei. Cast: Tania Squillario, Riccardo J. Moretti, Giovanna Daddi, Debora Mattiello, Federica Chezzi. Director: Paolo Benvenuti.  Screenwriters: Benvenuti, Paola Baroni. Producer: Gianpaolo Smiraglia. Director of photography: Giovanni Battista Marras. Production designer: Benvenuti, Aldo Buti. Music project/Art director: Baroni. Editor: Cesar Augusto Meneghetti. Sales Agent: Adriana Chiesa Enterprises. 80 minutes.

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