A Special Day (Un Giorno speciale): Venice Review

A puppy-love Rome romance, elevated by the charm and chemistry of the youthful leads.

Italian up-and-comers Filippo Schiccitano and Giulia Valentini star in Francesca Comencini's romance.

Roman Holiday meets Before Sunrise in Francesca Comencini’s slight but charming A Special Day (Un Giorno speciale), at heart a brisk two-hander for youthful, likeable leads Giulia Valentini and Filippo Schiccitano. Debuting quietly in Venice’s Competition three years after Comencini’s older-skewing The White Space scooped five unofficial awards on the Lido, it should recoup what must have been a pretty modest budget when released in Italy on Oct. 4. Festivals and small-screen buyers seeking accessible romantic fare should give it a look, as Comencini’s eye for social detail gives her fluffy story an unexpected and welcome gritty edge.

A resident in a scruffy Roman suburb, 19-year-old TV addict Gina (Valentini) aspires to a showbiz career and is willing to scale the ladder by means of "porn films, naked photos" and "escort" work if necessary. She’s granted an audience with a high-ranking politician in his city-center office and is picked up by an official limo driven by twentyish Marco (Schiccitano) on what turns out to be the lad’s first day at work. When Gina’s appointment is delayed, Gina and Marco have to kill time together and initial frictions give way to more intimate and tender exchanges.

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Working from 2010 novella The Sky with a Finger by actor/writer Claudio Bigagli -- a star of 1992's Foreign Language Oscar-winner Mediterraneo -- Comencini and her co-scripwriters aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel here with their dialogue-heavy exploration of how passion buds over a limited time-frame.

But newcomer Valentini and Schiccitano, building on his debut in Francesco Bruni’s well-received Easy! (Scialla!) from last year, are easy on the eye and the ear, and manage to find that crucial element of chemistry to ensure audiences root for them both individually and as a potential couple.

With his Tom Cruise-ish looks -- black hair, dark eyes, and an easy, toothy grin -- Schiccitano displays a genial charisma that bodes very well for his future prospects. The screenplay places a rather greater burden on his co-star, especially in the latter stages as the brassy but vulnerable Gina finally gets to meet the sleazy, string-pulling Congressman (Antonio Zavatteri) and Valentini capably belies her inexperience.

Essentially a showcase for the two leads, A Special Day certainly displays the duo to best advantage thanks to cinematography by Paolo Sorrentino’s usual DP, Luca Bignazzi. Eschewing the eyepopping operatics associated with Sorrentino’s flashy enterprises, Bignazzi gets up close and personal here with lightweight digital cameras that yield slick widescreen images. In a project where few supporting players get much of a look-in, well-chosen Roman locations ranging from run-down peripheral projects to the magnificent ruins of the Forum do more than their share of silent scene-stealing.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Competition), September 8, 2012.

Production company: Palomar
Cast: Filippo Schiccitano, Giulia Valentini, Antonio Zavatteri, Roberto Infascelli, Danielle Del Priore, Rocco Miglionico
Director: Francesca Comencini
Screenwriters: Francesca Comencini, Giulia Calenda, Davide Lantieri, based on the novel
The Sky with a Finger by Claudio Bigagli
Producer: Carlo Degli Espositi
Director of photography: Luca Bigazzi
Production designer: Paola Comencini

Costume designer: Ursula Patzak
Music: Ratchev & Carratello
Editors: Massimo Fiocchi, Chiara Vullo

Sales agent: Rai Trade, Rome
No MPAA rating, 83 minutes