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Euphoria (Euforia), actress Valeria Golino’s second directing effort, takes a disappointing step back from her promising first film, Honey (Miele). Whereas Honey found an original way to broach the taboo subject of assisted suicide, Euphoria‘s scanty ideas about sibling bonding and life as a gay man smack of pure romantic fantasy when they aren’t obvious cliches. To really work onscreen, the subject of two brothers discovering each other in extremis would require a lot more honesty and simplicity than the film attempts. But for those into fantasizing and channeling the spirit of Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, some stunning sets and dream houses should help True Colours sell this handsomely lensed Italian film, which premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar.
(Disambiguation: It is bound to be confused with Lisa Langseth’s film of the same title, which screened in Toronto last fall, and which oddly enough features Alicia Vikander and Eva Green as estranged sisters, one of whom is terminally ill.)
In Golino’s drama, one has to wonder whether LGBTQ audiences will buy into the main character of Matteo, played by the ever-intriguing Riccardo Scamarcio (To Rome With Love), who is cast against type as a wealthy gay playboy.
This is Scamarcio’s year; he has just appeared in Sorrentino’s Berlusconi spoof Them 1 in the vivid role of an ambitious young man who runs a prostitution ring. He is equally exuberant in Euphoria, with an unnatural energy fueled by drugs. He’s introduced cavorting with a male lover in his flashy, multi-terraced apartment in the center of Rome. Like any rich man, he has a coterie of followers and even a pining boy, whom he calls his “lady-in-waiting,” who sleeps patiently on the couch. By day, he turns into the smooth operator of a flashy company specializing in artistic projects and restoration work. To illustrate the peaks of success he has reached, one of his clients is the Vatican.
Matteo’s family is of humble origins, banally introduced at a chattering dinner party. Mom has accepted his sexual choice, but can’t resist remembering the girls he once dated. His older brother, Ettore (Valerio Mastandrea, of The First Beautiful Thing), still lives in the small town outside Rome where they grew up.
Sporting a beaten-dog look, the unshaven Ettore is the polar opposite of his glowing, outgoing brother, whom he resembles not a bit. He’s a poor country teacher in the middle of a painful separation from his wife (Isabella Ferrari) and son. While Matteo lives a party life of complete sexual freedom, Ettore is anguished over cheating on his spouse. He has fallen in love with a beautiful young woman (Jasmine Trinca), but, caught in an ethical quandary that would make Matteo laugh, can live with neither possible solution.
The biggest difference of all is the fact that while lucky Matteo is healthy, gloomy Ettore has a brain tumor and doesn’t have long to live. This melodramatic illness, on which the whole plot turns, is cautiously introduced in hushed whispers behind his back, with Matteo taking care that neither Ettore nor their mother knows the full truth. Thus putting himself in charge, he orders his brother to live with him in Rome while Ettore undergoes therapy.
In the last analysis, there’s nothing very euphoric about these characters. If you take away all the coke and the mood stabilizers, neither brother is a bundle of joy. Ettore, of course, has his reasons for being prickly and uncooperative, but one misses the clownlike charm that Mastandrea has used to lighten other roles.
Matteo evolves, in a scripted sort of way, from a vain, self-centered businessman and party boy into someone unhealthily obsessed with his brother’s life and in denial about his sibling’s imminent death. His proposal that they go to Lourdes together turns into a dismal trip to the shrine of Medjugorje in Bosnia, but if a miracle occurs there, it’s well hidden.
Although much of the dialogue is afflicted with a leaden naturalism that is hard to listen to, the film’s tech work is often dazzling. Hungarian DP Gergely Poharnok, who also shot Honey, creates multilayered visuals with lights, shadows and tricky lensing, which integrate perfectly with some fine digital special effects. Giogio Franchini’s editing is rapid-fire but keeps the story lucid.
Production companies: HT Film, Indigo in association with Rai Cinema
Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Valerio Mastandrea, Isabella Ferrari, Valentina Cervi, Jasmine Trinca, Andrea Germani, Marzia Ubaldi
Director: Valeria Golino
Screenwriters: Francesca Marciano, Valia Santella, Valeria Golino, Walter Siti
Producers: Viola Prestieri, Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima, Carlotta Calori
Director of photography: Gergely Poharnok
Production designer: Luca Merlini
Costume designer: Maria Rita Barbera
Editor: Giogio Franchini
Music: Nicola Tescari
Casting: Francesco Vedovati
World sales: True Colours
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
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