The New Italian Cinema film festival comes to the Landmark Embarcadero Center theater in San Francisco in November and here’s a comedy by Italian actor Laura Morante. It’s her directorial debut although it’s not in competition.
Related: New Italian Cinema festival 2012
Closing Night: Cherry on the Cake by Laura Morante, 2012, France, 85 minutes.
Sunday, Nov. 18 at 6:30 and 9:15 p.m. It’s possible the screenwriter Daniele Costantini will be in attendance, but that has yet to be confirmed.
Pascal Elbe’ as Antoine; Frederic Pierrot as Bertrand; Patrice Thibaud as Hubert; Georges Claisse as Le psychanalyste; Isabelle Carre’ as Florence. Samir Guesmi as Maxime. Music, Nicola Tescari.
This jazzy movie written, directed and starring in French, Laura Morante, age 56, feels like a climb up the Eiffel Tower. Your view turns and turns with each escalating step. You progress but nobody sees it all clearly until at the pinnacle, the cherry on the cake. There’s only one cherry though. There’s a recent Woody Allenesque feel with the French setting, jazzy clarinet, analysis and awkward intimacy. Woody Allen meets Nora Ephron in She’s Got Mail.
This confection begins at Christmas in France, two long-time women friends now approaching forty, hustling through the snow amid boutiques. Amanda, an editor for a book publisher, complains incessantly. She’s androphobic, she has an elaborate self-defense system where she doesn’t like men particularly those who attract her. So when she meets a handsome and reserved man she mistakenly thinks is gay, she singles him out immediately as the nicest man at the New Year’s Eve party.
Yet it’s Christmas as the film begins and as if in a last minute rush, Amanda talks fast and furious, complaining. Lights twinkle and shine but emotionally she’s oblivious and interiorwise she’s bleak. Her dark knit cap hides all her hair and her femininity and it looks like a helmet. She’s wrapped up tight head to toe, protecting herself from the cold weatherwise and emotionally. Actually Amanda seems a habitual complainer as she complains about her husband Bertrand’s habituality.
The good humored and warm hearted married Florence, who has been happily married for seventeen years, says one must overlook little faults. Conversely Morante as the characters evolve will show her characters shed layers of clothing. The well-meaning friends reveal themselves as spring finally comes and we hear birds singing in the garden. It’s funny because as writer, director and star, Morante is omniscient and omnipresent as Steve Martin used to say, yet her character is the last to know the truth.
Silent night, Holy night
Meanwhile. Carolers sing Silent Night at a posh French restaurant as poor Amanda and Bertrand celebrate with painful awkwardness their anniversary. They just cannot force it to be the holy night it should be. They fight over food and champagne, it’s tense if not silent.
Florence is planning a party though but gay friend Maxime cannot come.
Nevertheless. Handsome 40 year old friend #2, Antoine, with marital trouble enters awkwardly, stumbling, kicks over paint cans. Antoine will go to the party alone. Amanda, also alone, mistakes him for the gay friend who couldn’t make it. That’s funny because Antoine looks handsome in a traditional way and there’s nothing overtly gay about him. Antoine doesn’t sashay around like the demonstrative Maxime, Antoine walks and talks like a man, like Daniel Craig as James Bond. In French. Amanda stops complaining. She still cannot stop smoking. Neither can Antoine.
Instant messages, Skyping, cell phones, answering machines
We see him at his puzzled therapist’s office. This is so Woody Allen, complete with clarinet for lightheartedness and bemusement. Communication and miscommunication ensue, safely from a distance yet intimate, as in the Tom Hanks movie She’s Got Mail by the late Nora Ephron. She could be skyping but she’s sending instant messages. Everybody has cell phones but turns them off it seems. They have answering machines but screen calls and don’t pick up.
Morante has a wry sense of observation about the way loved ones communicate. It’s so hard and tragically comical to read between the lines or to perceive emotions through electronic devices, even though they sometimes enable us with the mobility and sense of privacy.
Even the happily married friends of Amanda have idiosyncratic yet typical ways of communicating. Hubert, the balding yet meticulous husband the analyst, keeps grooming himself in the bathroom with the door closed while his perky blond wife Florence tries to analyze with him what’s going on with Antoine and Amanda. His droll folk wisdoms spoken casually, such as while he reads the paper in bed while she opines and cries, sound priceless.
Morante shows a real gift for defining each member of her sophisticated and urban ensemble, writing each one with their particular personality and way of speaking, whatever age, gender or orientation. The unifying quality is a playfulness and gentle analysis. Try to be patient with her.
Here’s an interview with her about the film in Italian. Morante interview.
Film tickets $11 for SFFS members, $13 general, $12 seniors, students and persons with disabilities; Opening Night film and party $20 for SFFS members, $25 general. Fall Season Cinevisa $450. Box office opens October 3 for members and October 5 for the general public online at www.sffs.org.
CineVoucher pack $105 SFFS members/$125 non-members for ten films
Memberships range from $60 to $900
Landmark Embarcadero Center Cinema is at One Embarcadero Center, Promenade Level, San Francisco, CA 94111. (415) 267-4893. Easy walk from Embarcadero BART. No bike racks but there are parking meters.
For more by this writer, check out CBS San Francisco’s website under arts & culture; or quadrust.com’s San Francisco arts & culture.
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