Tutta la vita davanti



ROME -- Having recovered from his poorly received (especially at home) period film "Napoleon & Me," Paolo Virzi has gone back to doing what he does best in "Tutta la vita davanti" (roughly, "Your Whole Life Ahead of You"). He offers up a bittersweet, at times surreal snapshot of contemporary Italy, this time through a comically biting critique of temping, a phenomenon only now exploding in the country. Loosely based on a novel by Michela Murgia, the film reaches a broad audience: the young for its central characters, the old(er) for its ultimately accurate depiction of starting out in the world. It is commercial enough to span wide arthouse audiences abroad, especially in the U.S. if marketed correctly.

The fairy tale begins, voice-over and all, with Marta (Isabella Ragonese) graduating from college cum laude and happily setting out to find a job in publishing. Dozens of fruitless interviews later, she becomes a live-in babysitter for single mother Sonia (Micaela Ramazzotti) and starts temping at a call center run by an exuberant and ruthless manager (Sabrina Ferilli).

The giddiness of her first adult adventure wears off quickly when the lousiness of her job becomes apparent, in the form of cruel bosses, envious co-workers and harassed customers. She meets an impassioned labor union worker (Valerio Mastandrea) and soon divulges the company's unfair practices -- as much out of her desire for just treatment as for his charisma.

Ragonese plays Marta, an intelligent, caring and strong young woman, well and you know she will make the most of the life she has ahead of her. But it is the secondary characters who give the film the gravitas necessary to keep the story from being breezy. Sex symbol Ferilli is both moving and repellant as the woman who appears to have it all together but is an empty shell, even when the plot takes her way over the top. And Ramazzotti is perfect as the ballsy knockout who can have all the men she wants, which threatens to lead her to her only marketable skill.

Having made a real-life fairy tale without stooping to cynicism or facile judgments, Virzi knows there are no happy endings. But there are happy moments, many of which depend precisely on the kindness of strangers, as in the film's finale.

Medusa Film, Motorino Amaranto
Sales: Adriana Chiesa Enterprises
Director: Paolo Virzi
Writer: Virzi, Francesco Bruni
Producers: Daniele Mazzocca
Director of photography: Nicola Pecorini
Music: Franco Piersanti
Costume designer: Francesca Sartori
Editor: Esmerelda Calabria
Marta: Isabella Ragonese
Daniela: Sabrina Ferilli
Claudio: Massimo Ghini
Giorgio: Valerio Mastandrea
Lucio 2: Elio Germano
Sonia: Micaela Ramazzotti
Maria Chiara: Valentina Carnelutti
Running time -- 118 minutes
No MPAA rating