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L'Amore molesto
cast: Anna Bonaiuto, Angela Luce, Gianni Cajafa, Licia Maglietta, and Carmela Pecoraro

director: Mario Martone

99 minutes (15) 1995
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Was it common as an English child to romanticise about things Italian? In the 1970s pasta never touched my plate and little of the country's cinema popped up on television. Yet it, Italy, Italians, held a steady presence and so they should. The bastards did invade and rule us. In school, the Romans were the starting point in history. Those tantalising most sought after fragments of the past turning up in newly tilled fields were Roman, treasure hunters and historians alike sifting for villas, we could never get enough of villas. We were Roman Catholics. They crucified Christ. The spaghetti western, Roman mythology, the Pope's residence in the Vatican City, the Mafiosa, Up Pompeii and ice-cream; little boys couldn't escape that far off country's influence.

As teenagers at the turn of the 1980s they were waiting for us with a new tact, the hard gore horror film. Masculist Italy was always in the background telling us how handsome it was, how real the men were, how much the girls loved them, and all of this to an historical backdrop and under a fantastic sun. The real Italy is grim, slothernly, nasty, down and dirty. Long before I got to the age now at, Italy had drooped, blocked out by more fascinating cultures and, in film terms a superior quality of product, of France, Spain, Greece, Japan, South America... virtually any other country in the world. It happened slowly for me. Other spectators don't see it the same way. Rossellini, Pasolini, Fellini, the giallo, Argento, the peplum... they revel in and idolatise, it leaves me, for the most part, cold. Realist, flat, slow, cheap, tacky, clumsy and crass are descriptions I am more likely to use on respectice Italian films and filmmakers.

The 1990s was a desperate era. The Oscar winners repel me and few people at all seemed remotely interested in the films coming out of the country. A resurgence of the exploitation cinema would not have helped, as they too were more often than not dreadful. Argento and Soavi were not delivering as promised, though The Stendahl Syndrome is a genuine curio. We've done this film called La Scorta, they tell us excitedly. When it turns up on television it couldn't be more routine. The dubbed Dellamore Dellamorte, the English-language Stealing Beauty and L'Amore molesto (aka: Nasty Love) were rare, positive blips in a decade of dross. The last time Mario Martone's L'amore molesto was seen was on its single BBC airing.

Anna Bonaiuto is Delia who, single, approaching middle age and making her living as a graphic artist. Her work, seen briefly, is effulgent and colourful in a largely grey film. The flashbacks to childhood are soaked sepia with only the boldest of colours allowed to break through. The present too is rather dour. Colour is life in this film. She escapes into something better than real life in the colourful world of graphic comic and later it is a standout red dress that brings her to a new potentially dangerous lifestyle. She essentially becomes trapped in the dress like a cocoon until ready to leave it as something fast at long last able to flitter madly through life in a rediscovered sexuality rather than something that crawls disinterestedly through the days.

On Delia's birthday her mother, Amalia (Angela Luce), is due to visit but instead makes a call, in evident distress. She mentions a man is present. When she calls again she is laughing. "I'm going to take it in my mouth," she chortles to Delia's horror. "Be careful or he will end up hurting you too. Go to bed! Go to bed! I'm going for a swim." The next morning the mother's semi-naked body is discovered in the water pathetically trying to berth on the beach. Delia investigates. Uncle Filippo (Gianni Cajafa) threatens violence against a man at the funeral, a man she only glimpses; a tall old man in a white suit (Giavanni Viglietti). He will turn up time and again, always, seemingly, one step ahead of Delia. Arranging to deliver her mother's clothes and collect his own he evades her on the stairs. She is certain she can chase him down but finds that he has padlocked the wrought iron gate at the front of the building. He is unfazed by the death and taunts Delia. She does not recognise the clothes delivered as a style her mother might decently have worn.

Adversely, she teams up with Uncle Filippo and tries to return the clothes to the shop from which they came in an attempt to run up more information, but shop-staff convince Delia that the red dress might suit her. Once in the dress she tries to quiz the shop proprietor (Pepe Lanzetta) but he erupts angrily and throws her out. The man in white is identified as Caserta, who back in the 1950s had taken a beating from Delia's father for an apparent tryst with the mother. Amalia had clearly recommenced the affair. Caserta appears again, and again he is just out of reach on the other side of a locked gate. The pair double-back to give pursuit. Delia is alone when she catches up with Caserta at a station and the old pervert approaches an oblivious, bending woman blatantly mimicking sex from behind on the crowded concourse. Delia is as stunned as the viewer and it stalls her but the chase continues until she finds Caserta in a discussion with the shop owner.

The shop owner approaches her alone. He knows her, is her childhood friend Antonio Pelledro, and he is Caserto's son. The old man has been stealing clothes from the shop and fleecing him of money, a right royal pain, but family after all. The past is catching up on Delia and her mother's death, Caserta's frame of mind, her own father's disassociation, the uncle's unending anger and Antonio's failings and insecurities are all linked to one long buried event, a lie that was told by Delia as a little girl. Her behaviour had been the angry response to a horrific episode of her own, a terrible crime committed on the child Delia by another figure who was known by and connected to all. Unfortunately for Delia he has been a long time dead and beyond justice.

To write about the film is remind one how clever it is, yet it is let down by its greyness. It may have been heard that I was looking for an antidote to the common romanticism of Italy but for the last two decades most of what we know of modern Italy is ugly and an answer to that would be something that lifts the country out of the gloom. A murky Bologne is not it. None of this is Martone's fault. The soundtrack is interesting, a hodgepodge of jarring tunes, ranging from a Steve Lacy experimentation, to Tuxedomoon and closing on a tarantella ('Tarantella del Gargano') sung by Brunella Selo. It is found music that dominates the film, why chance hiring a composer when the perfect music to prod people forward exists already.

The red dress is significant. Bonaiuto's Delia is a woman whose youth has receded, youth is connected with her molestation and it seems necessary to leave youth behind before she can progress behind the damage. Her face is angular; her body is developing its curves. She cannot imagine she would look good in the red dress but she does. She has been trapped in the dress for some time before she sees herself in a full mirror, her hair wet from a rain storm and she awakens admirably to her reflection, now she knows she looks good. She had been asleep, and her mother's death has reawakened her. The trawling of memory however she can only be happy again by destroying the comfort zone she has made for herself.

Francesco da Mosto in recent years has supplied the BBC with two joyful television series, Venice (2004) and Italy: Top To Toe (2006). In them he imbues with his patriotic passion for his country and this alongside the DVD arrival of L'Amore molesto has agitated that long lost frisson in me that once came so naturally with mention of anything Italian. Unfortunately, with the overrated Nani Moretti and Paolo Sorrentino the most prized among Italian directors by the critics currently, the 2000s are looking no more promising than the last decade did for Italian cinema.

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