The construct of nuptials and all that “till death do us part” jazz is far from a priority for this potboiling picture. All the conventions are doused with a multi-fused incendiary substance that questions the purpose of making film altogether. Film as an art form is in the crosshairs here, and desperado filmmaking characters (clearly surrogates for the author himself) feel recognition only arrives post-mortem. In The Wedding Director, a beloved master of the wedding genre is trying to fill a tall order. Besides making a modern version of Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed, the director finds himself embroiled in a sex scandal, thrown to the dogs to shoot a wedding that is slated to become a funeral—all the while attempting to thwart a royal bride’s special day for his own personal gain. The story’s windup equates to grabbing a wad of the cake with bare hands and feeding it a la carte to the viewer. Though technically sound and substantively adequate, the film pushes too much pomp for bravo status. Italian cinema aficionados will appreciate the craft, but the lines outside the theatre will be single file rather than stampede.
What matters most to wedding filmmaking phenom Franco Elica (Sergio Castellitto) lies in the subconscious. As an accomplished auteur of the mighty wedding film sect, he is Jesus. Flickering in and out of the moment and lingering in black-and-white scenes from old movies to fish-eyed night vision to flat out erotica makes the actual story a bit choppy. At one point, the director is solemn, and then all of a sudden he’s a lunatic shouting at a coterie of curvaceous female thespians during a casting call. As if he is not enough of a peril to himself, he has the law after him for insinuations that his moviemaking is a front for fellatio trysts.
Away from Rome and the day-to-day, the maestro sits on a beach and watches a bride and groom stroll along a beach with a two-man film crew capturing their every laugh and caress. One of the wedding shooters takes a few non-solicited tips from Elica—bending what would have been standard-issue wedding material into a graphic home movie where the newlyweds go at it on the beach. Now chums, Elica boards with his new apprentice and his wife and tots in a guest room overlooking the ocean.
On holiday of sorts, Elica roams the landscape and gets a whiff of a woman. Trouble is she’s Bona Gravina (Donatella Finocchiaro), a princess who is set to marry a zero within a matter of days, and—after word of the acclaimed lensman’s residence in the small town gets out—Elica is propositioned by the bride’s scurrilous father to shoot the event. Steadying the plot on a serious foundation, Marco Bellocchio messes with format—invoking farcical elements that heavily distort what’s happening. Unsure whether to laugh or be afraid becomes a revolving dilemma.
Once eased into humorous undertones, the film shifts into thriller mode and all is serious. Prince Palagonia (Sami Frey) is living in a majestic villa where he enjoys firing his handgun for leisure’s sake. Elica comes to the home and falls into bizarre trances where clocks ring behind a fast-paced piano ditty. Later, the Romeo even breaks into soprano and serenades his muse with a full supporting cast behind him. Another trot into the sublime occurs on the actual rehearsal of the wedding, where the run-through is a covert operation between the Prince and his operatives pursuing Elica’s every move by fitting a camera into his clothes so that they can record his every hiccup. The ploy reveals spy-cam surveillance footage in the first-person. It’s all very whimsical and grating. More and more of the gritty fish-eyed material is shown and clearly this is meant to emphasize the point and subplot: That the artist must undergo too often the pangs of powerful forces that plunder the creative juices one moment after the next.
Excessive accoutrements derail too much from the main offering plate of a man chasing his damsel. One wonders who tossed the starter dough out the window so fast? The central character is locked in this sort of puzzling purgatory where he keeps imagining himself cast in scenes like the multiple wedding sequences that meet horrific endings. Insert a random downhill race in potato sacks and you’re lucky if you know the ceiling is from the floor. Throw in a fusillade of fireworks that go off with the flick of a cigarette honoring a babbling filmmaker-turned-ghost mumbling about the worth of his work now that he’s a corpse, and the whole film begins to wash down like a chewable multivitamin sans water.
Marco Bellocchio can shoot a film—while his writing chops are not to be scoffed at, he should wear the director’s hat most often from now on. The performances are very believably delivered. All in all, the film will hold its own and become a standout for the sake that it boldly tried and succeeded. But piling too much on the plate is not appetizing, no matter how exquisite the cuisine.
Distributor: New Yorker
Cast: Sergio Castellitto, Donatella Finocchiaro, Sami Frey and Gianni Cavina
Director/Screenwriter: Marco Bellocchio
Producers: Marco Bellocchio and Sergio Pelone
Genre: Drama; Italian-language, subtitled
Running time: 100 min.
Release date: May 30