Keep Your Head Up -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

ROME -- Alessandro Angelini returns to Rome with "Keep Your Head Up," his second feature film after "The Salty Air." Once again, Angelini's leading man won the festival's Best Actor nod -- this time it's Sergio Castellitto. However, what starts out as one of the better Italian films of recent times is derailed into a melodramatic potpourri by the director's overambitious desire to tell too many stories at once.

Technically, the film is solid enough to snag interest at home and abroad. But it is so emotionally charged that it short-circuits itself -- and probably potential interest from international buyers as well. "Keep Your Head Up" is being released in Italy on November 13 by 01 Distribution.

In a seaside town near Rome, boat-builder Mero (Castellitto) is an overprotective single father who pushes his teenage son Lorenzo (Gabriele Campanelli) to become the prizefighter he himself never was. They train together every day. The first real seeds of friction appear between the tightly knit duo when Lorenzo starts dating and wants a normal life outside the ring.

So far so good: The film seems headed down the coming-of-age, difficult father-son relationship path. Though certainly not original, the story is immediately gripping because of how well its nuanced leads play off of one another. The look is grainy, the hand-held camerawork practically a given among Italy's younger filmmakers.

Castellitto fuses the peckish anxiety of a mother hen with working-class machismo. His Mero is an embittered man, striving for the best despite the hardships he's experienced. Newcomer Campanelli very much holds his own against one of Italy's best actors. Their close, co-dependent relationship feels real from the start.

Then a tragic accident occurs, in a sequence so anti-climactic you wonder why it was shot the way it was. From hereon, "Keep Your Head Up" shifts tone altogether, replacing the subtleties of the previous human drama with a series of unfolding, social-issue plots.

Thrown into the new mix are a transvestite (a stand-out performance from Anita Kravos), Mero's guilt and search for a surrogate son, tense relations between Slovenians and Italians along the northern border and illegal Asian immigrants.

Venue: Rome International Film Festival -- Competition

Production companies: Bianca Film, RAI Cinema, Alien Produzioni
Cast: Sergio Castellitto, Gabriele Campanelli, Anita Kravos, Giorgio Colangeli, Duccio Camerini, Augusto Fornari, Pia Lanciotti, Gabriel Spahiu
Director: Alessandro Angelini
Screenwriters: Angelini, Angelo Carbone, Francesca Marciano
Producer: Donatella Botti
Director of photography: Arnaldo Catinari
Production designer: Alessandro Marrazzo
Music: Luca Tozzi
Costume designer: Daniela Cancio
Editor: Massimo Fiocchi
Sales: RAI Trade
No rating, 90 minutes