La Bellezza del Somaro -- Film Review

An updated, seriously overblown "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner."

Literally translating into 'The Beauty of the Donkey,' 'La Bellezza del Somaro,' the third directorial effort by actor Sergio Castellitto, is a variation on 'Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner' with some vaudeville. It features two-dimensional characters that range from hysterical to even more hysterical thrown in.

What could possibly shock bourgeois parents today the way Hepburn and Tracy were thrown for a loop by a “colored” son-in-law over 40 years ago? Very little, successful architect Marcello (Castellitto) and his psychologist wife Marina (Laura Morante) imagine – until their 17-year-old daughter Rosa (Nina Torresi) brings home 70-something beau Armando (legendary Italian singer-actor-comedian Enzo Jannacci).

On a sunny weekend at their country house, the family, their maid, progressive rich friends and two of Marina’s patients with abandonment issues are first scandalized, then won over by Armando. Jannacci is the most bearable of the bunch, partly because of his magnetic presence and partly because as the “wise old sage” he’s given very little dialogue. When he does speak, it’s to say things like, “A snake sheds its skin often to regenerate itself. I wish for us all to be like snakes.” Not only do the others not call him on his banalities, they find him all the sexier and wiser for them.

The point to all the noisy carryings on is that liberals aren’t as liberal as they think, parents never feel appreciated and children never think they’re understood. We’re all plagued by generational conflicts and unresolved family issues and we never really grow up. In the end, Castellitto doesn’t redeem the donkey (a word used to describe something particularly ugly or dull in Italian) but offers a one-trick pony of a plot, whose characters’ incessant neuroses bring on a headache that not even the relatively peaceful ending can cure.

Gianfilippo Corticelli’s camerawork is almost always hand-held, which only adds to the frenzy, and the soundtrack is the snappiest part of the film, especially tracks by Willie Nelson, the Cranberries and 50 Cent.

Opened: Dec. 17 in Italy
Production companies: Cinemaundici, Alien Produzioni
Cast: Sergio Castellitto, Laura Morante, Marco Giallini, Barbora Bobulova, Enzo Jannacci, Gianfelice Imparato, Emanuela Grimalda, Lidia Vitale, Nina Torresi
Director: Sergio Castellitto
Screenwriters: Margaret Mazzantini, Sergio Castellitto
Producers: Luigi Musini, Roberto Cicutto, Sergio Castellitto
Director of photography: Gianfilippo Corticelli
Production designer: Francesco Frigeri
Music: Arturo Annecchino
Costume designer: Chiara Ferrantini
Editor: Francesca Calvelli
No rating, 107 minutes