'Tutto il mio folle amore': Film Review | Venice 2019

Rai Cinema
A sentimental journey marred by kitsch excess.

A boozy wedding singer and his teenage son share a life-changing road trip in this heart-tugging melodrama from Oscar-winning director Gabriele Salvatores.

Almost three decades have elapsed since Gabriele Salvatores won the Oscar for best foreign language film with his saccharine wartime ensemble drama Mediterraneo (1991). Judging by his latest Venice world premiere, Tutto il mio folle amore, the 69-year-old Neapolitan writer-director has lost none of his prodigious appetite for sun-drenched feel-good travelogue stories with more style than substance.

Loosely based on real events, this contemporary road movie chronicles a bumpy reunion between a troubled teenager and his louche, long-absent father. After making its debut out of competition on the Lido, Tutto il mio folle amore is set to open Oct. 24 in Italy. Salvatores has a pretty strong track record at home, but a warm international welcome is far from assured for his latest heart-tugging melodrama, which lays on the treacly mawkishness way too thickly. At times, it is almost indigestible in its sugary sentimentality and facile life-is-sweet message.

Vincent (Giulio Pranno) is a rebellious 16-year-old living in sunny luxury with his mother Elena (Valeria Golino) and adoptive father Mario (Diego Abatantuono). The cherub-faced boy has a neurological condition, never fully explained in the screenplay, but which appears to be a sort of manic, high-functioning autism. Essentially he suffers from one of those dramatically convenient ailments that only appears in movies, whose chief symptoms involve moonstruck babbling and running wild with horses; a rare condition which can be tamed with hugs and songs and sexual favors from exotic gypsy women. Salvatores likens Vincent to one of Shakespeare's fools, his stormy mood swings forcing more powerful characters to bend to his will. Which is a pleasingly poetic conceit, but also an infantile depiction of mental illness.

Vincent's biological father Willi (Claudio Santamaria) is a boozy, louche, charmingly feckless wedding singer who abandoned the pregnant Elena before their son was even born. Sixteen years later, in the middle of singing Don McLean's classic ballad "Vincent," he makes the rash decision to seek out his long-lost boy. His late-night reunion with Elena is inevitably fractious, and culminates in him driving away with Vincent hiding in the back of his pickup truck. By the time Willi realizes he has a stowaway on board, he is halfway to Slovenia for a concert booking.

Despite threats from Elena to have him arrested on kidnapping charges, Willi strikes a delicate deal to take Vincent on a short road trip. But an unplanned detour then takes this odd couple across the border into the rugged coastal terrain of Croatia, which Salvatores paints as a vast Wild East badlands of rocky deserts, travelling carnivals, people traffickers, Balkan bandits and lawless rebel communities. With Elena and Mario in pursuit, Willi and Vincent share a picaresque journey spiced with sex, booze, eager groupies and darkly exotic femme fatales. The narrow depiction of women in this emphatically man-centric fairy tale would be more problematic if the male characters were not quite so mono-dimensional, too.

There is a sweet father-son road movie at the heart of Tutto il mio folle amore, a picaresque fantasia peppered with sly allusions to Don Quixote. But Salvatores obliterates any such subtle shading by cranking everything up to 11, drenching even the most tender interludes in soapy emotionalism, saturated colors and jarringly sentimental music. The cast do their best with this stilted, kitsch material but maximum credit must go to Pranno, whose thankless big-screen debut requires him to deliver a gratingly mannered performance of face-pulling, stammering, windmill-armed excess.

A more self-aware maestro of finely calibrated melodrama, like Almodovar or Ozon or Sorrentino, could probably have made this overcooked material resonate more effectively. But with Salvatores acting as master of ceremonies, Tutto il mio folle amore mostly feels like a compendium of shallow music-video cliches straining for deeper effect: champagne bottles floating in swimming pools, elegantly lamp-lit ballrooms, sudden gusts of wind dancing through empty restaurants. All visually lush, but dramatically hollow. Even Italo Petriccione's restless cameras, endlessly swirling and swooping, seems to be overacting. Sadly, when a movie tries this hard to squeeze at your heartstrings, it ends up having the opposite effect.

Production companies: Indiana Production, Rai Cinema, EDI Effetti Digitali Italiani
Director: Gabriele Salvatores
Cast: Claudio Santamaria, Valeria Golino, Diego Abatantuono, Giulio Pranno
Screenwriters: Umberto Contarello, Sara Mosetti, Gabriele Salvatores
Peroducers: Marco Cohen, Benedetto Habib, Fabrizio Donvito, Francesco Grisi, Niccolo Ballarati
Cinematographer: Italo Petriccione
Editor: Massimo Fiocchi
Production designer: Rita Rabassini
Costume designer:Patrizia Chericoni
Music: Mauro Pagani
Venue: Venice International Film Festival (out of competition)
Sales: Rai Cinema

97 minutes