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In Three Touches, the six soccer-playing protagonists practice on a training pitch next to an ancient Roman aqueduct. While picturesque, this backdrop also inadvertently speaks volumes about the dated quality of the themes broached by the film itself: while seemingly a progressive probe into the underbelly of modern-day machismo, Marco Risi’s latest ensemble comedy only serves to consolidate the stereotypes anchoring patriarchy, its self-doubting male characters’ views about life justified by whining women, horrid heterosexuals and rural rednecks. The film’s gala-screening bow at the Rome Film Festival on Oct. 21 is to serve as a flag for its Italian domestic release on Nov. 13 – but it’s hard to see much potential for travel.
While the film’s title alludes to a training method aimed at fostering simplicity needed for crisp, flowing movements on the pitch, Three Touches is anything but short and sharp, its thinly-etched stock-type characters weighed down by its many histrionics, sideshows and tasteless gags. The one central theme anchoring the film’s six threads is masculinity in crisis: beneath the gung-ho surface – a much-repeated scenario sees the protagonists involved in braggadocio-laced locker room banter after (unseen) triumphant soccer matches – lie damaged souls struggling for some sense of security. It’s a point Risi hammers home by having his characters intoning, “I’m not even sure I’ve become me”, the concluding line in the script they have to read in the one audition which could provide them with a big break.
On top of that, however, Risi and his co-screenwriters Francesco Frangipane and Riccardo Di Torrebuna have slapped on melodramatic scenarios drawn from many a film about damaged men. There’s the narcissistic alpha-male Gilles (Gilles Rocca) whose cocky demeanor and extravagant lifestyle – from the swish car to his unabashed support of Silvio Berlusconi’s greed-is-good ethos – obscures a cocaine-addled confusion; there’s the handsome young thing Antonio (Antonio Folletto) nursing his bruised ego because of his life as a rich woman’s kept boy toy; and there’s the rough rascal Vincenzo (Vincenzo De Michele) whose violence against the women around him stems from his failures in life and his anguish about caring for his dying father.
And then there’s homosexuality, which is portrayed in the film as a source of blocked lives. Emiliano Ragno plays a bellhop-by-day, dubber-by-night who fantasizes about being a classical Hollywood star (he imagines being Clark Gable romancing Marilyn Monroe in a hotel suite – a dream sequence filmed in kitsch black-and-white), falls for the casting couch trap set by a producer dressed up in drag and finally finds liberation when he stops denying that he’s gay. Leandro (Leandro Amato), meanwhile, performs in drag as a way to hide from mobsters pursuing him for some misstep he made in a dark and deadly past.
Comic relief comes in the shape of Max (Massimiliano Benvenuto), a 40-year-old actor long past his soap-star career zenith and now resigned to using that brief glory to bring customers into the restaurant he works in. Like a less comical Roberto Benigni, Max is on the brink of self-implosion as he fights for a crack at that narrative-converging audition after years of making mostly TV commercials; returning to his hometown – an Italian equivalent of Hicksville, USA – he is disgusted by his uncultured clan who belittles his big-city artistic aspirations as an immature whim. It’s a thread seemingly set to become the most engaging, until his epiphany finally arrives accompanied by a visual gag about the female body.
The six characters, in a way, could be seen as fragments of the same male mentality – and Risi’s mise-en-scene struggles to inject some visual variety among the different strands through camerawork or production design. Risi might have thought himself clever for bringing in director Paolo Sorrentino (incumbent Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar winner with The Great Beauty) to deliver a cameo – but one only leaves the cinema wondering what Sorrentino would have done with the material, given his idiosyncratic take on monstrous individuals thriving and unraveling in Italian society.
Venue: Rome Film Festival (Gala)
Production Company: Tre Tocchi s.r.l.
Cast: Massimiliano Benvenuto, Leandro Amato, Emiliano Ragno, Vincenzo De Michele, Antonio Folletto, Gilles Rocca
Director: Marco Risi
Screenwriters: Marco Risi, FrancescoF Frangipane, Riccardo Di Torrebruna, on a story by Marco Risi
Producers: Marco Risi, Andrea Iervolino
Director of Photography: Andrease Bursiri Vici D’arcevia
Production Designer: Sonia Peng, Massimiliano Forlenza
Costume Designer: Antonella Balsamo
Editor: Valentina Girodo
Composer: Jonis Bascir
Casting director: Roberto Bigherati
No rating; 100 minutes
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