The White Space -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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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.

VENICE -- Countless films have been made about men who run from impending fatherhood or don't want children. Few, however, tackle those feelings in women without judging them their lack of maternal instinct. Francesca Comencini's "The White Space" does just that, taking for granted that there is nothing wrong with an independent woman spurning motherhood.

The film has already created a buzz in Italy. Its topicality and high production values (especially for an Italian film) will have strong arthouse appeal.

Based on a novel, "The White Space" is set in Naples and centers on Maria (Margherita Buy). A night school teacher in her late 30's, she becomes pregnant shortly after falling for Pietro (Guido Caprino), who is already raising one infant and does not want another.

The beginning is too hurried. We see that Maria feels no connection to children by her reactions to Pietro's baby, and photos of her ex's daughter. But we have barely grasped Maria's personality when suddenly we're in the hospital incubator room. There, Maria will spend the next two months by the side of her daughter Irene, born prematurely at six months.

At this point the film picks up a steady rhythm, even relating some of the pregnancy in flashbacks. The photography alternates between the wide-open sea before Naples and the grittiness of its streets, eloquently capturing Maria's suspended state.

Impatient and not used to sharing her life with others, she has no choice but to wait for her tiny child to either be born or die, as she puts it. Maria makes friends with the other mothers in the hospital, and the staff but, more importantly, she slowly falls in love with Irene.

Buy is used to playing nervy characters, and it works here. But too much of the film is placed on her shoulders, to the detriment of other characters that are never fully developed. Too often, Maria vents her emotions over the phone to her friend Fabrizio (Giovanni Ludeno), which furthers the idea of her isolated life but the monologues are more didactic than natural.

Yet overall the film is a thought-provoking, articulate look at what motherhood means to women who have come a long way in their social emancipation such as Maria's neighbor (Maria Pajato), a judge forced to live alone, under constant police protection. In a well-written scene between the two, she speaks honestly and without guilt to Maria about her choice to dedicate her life to her work, knowing full well that her family would suffer.

Venue -- Venice International Film Festival

Production company: Fandango
Cast: Margherita Buy, Gaetano Bruno, Giovanni Ludeno, Antonia Truppo, Guido Caprino, Salvatore Cantalupo, Maria Pajato
Director: Francesca Comencini
Screenwriters: Comencini, Federica Pontremoli
Producers: Domenico Procacci, Laura Paolucci
Director of photography: Luca Bigazzi
Production designer: Paola Comencini
Music: Nicola Tescari
Editor: Massimo Fiocchi
Sales Agent: Fandango Portobello Sales
No rating, 99 minutes