Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 7:53 pm 
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Boychick in bell bottom Naples

The screenwriter Ivan Controneo mixes fantasy, comedy, and melodrama in his directorial debut, based on his own novel. Kryptonite (La kryptonite nella borsa), which has almost too much fun with its early Seventies setting, and revolves around a nine-year-old boy, Peppino (Luigi Cantno) in the somewhat down-at-heels seaside Neopolitan town of Portici, with its wonderfully dreary seaside apartment buildings. When Peppino's mother Rosaria (Valeria Golino) freaks out over the infidelity of his father Antonio (Luca Zingaretti), Peppino falls into the hands of irresponsible relatives, while cared for by the guiding spirit of the nutty Genaro (Vincenzo Nemolato), who thought he was Superman and got run over by a bus. The mop-headed, bespectacled Peppino is taken to happenings with drugs, lesbian love, and bra burning (not necessarily in that order), and looks surprisingly at home in tight bell bottoms and open silk short with gold "Peace" chain. But when this alternates with mom's sessions with a shrink, things get a bit too complicated -- though acting and mise-en-scène are fine and there are cute moments as well as louche and downbeat ones.

Peppino's voiceover introduces a big Neopolitan family. Besodes Rosaria and Antonio he has a beautiful, with-it older sister, Titina (Cristiana Capotondi), his brother Salvatore (Libero de Rienzo), a seducer of women, and there's Federico (Gennaro Cuomo), supposedly the smart brother. Then there's superhero Gennaro -- who's on the lookout for the magic metal of the title, and after his death, revisits Peppinio at moments of loneliness or doubt. From the start Peppino is thought "ugly" (though he's adorable), and his wearing big glasses gets him abused by schoolmates. In class his teacher Signorina Lina (Rosaria de Cicco) introduces students to a trinity of mothers, the natural one, her, and the Virgin Mary -- a counterpoint to the wildness Peppino encounters with his careless caretakers and the rudderless household created when his father, who runs a Singer dealership, starts sleeping with a younger woman and his mother goes to bed with an endless "headache" and abandons her household duties.

Some of the Seventies scenes are giddy fun, like one when a Woman's Libber calls for bra burning, and another with erotic partying where Peppino, in teeny bopper hip regalia, swallows a tab of LSD. (He is found in a corner and safely regurgitates it.) But there are other scenes, like a Hair-style Greek chorus dance, that are gratuitous and merely interrupt the story. Likewise a subplot about a lonely woman, Assunta (Monica Nappo), who tries to cruise men down by the deserted beach. The scenes between Rosaria and her psychotherapist, Dr. Matarrese (Fabrizio Gifuni), are warm and interesting, especially in the context of a conventional Italian family, but they too feel poorly integrated into the movie. A narrative sequence running through the first half, in which dad Federico gives Peppino three baby chicks and then is successively responsible for their deaths, is merely sad and odd. As Peppino, Cantaro is charming and has a light touch, but never seems the geek or loser he's depicted as by the adults. If Cotroneo had trimmed out some of the unnecessary story-lines and added more of Peppino at school to balance his character outside the family against his mother's liberating scenes with the shrink, the movie might have had more coherence. Are Gennaro and Peppino linked because they're both gay? Or if not what is it that makes Peppino an outsider? These issues are avoided in the sweet fantasy finale.

As a writer Cotroneo has worked on the Kim Rossi Stewart vehicle Piano, Solo; Guadagnino's much-publicized in the US I Am Love; and Ferzan Ozpetek's recent choral film Loose Canons, besides a lot of writing for TV. Sadly, despite excellent dialogue, and ironically given Cotroneo's background, the writing is structurally weak. But the directing is good, and so are other elements: even if some sequences go overboard, the period, with contrasts between existing drabness and colorful new styles and manners, is nicely handled. Titina's boyfriend Elio (Carmine Borrino) in red bell bottoms limping on the desolate beach of Portici is something to see.

La kryptonite nella borsa debuted at the Rome Film Festival in November 2011 and was released in Italy Nov. 4, 2011. Screened for this review as part of the New Italian Cinema series of the San Francisco Film Society, Nov. 11-18, 2012. The film was scheduled for two showings, Nov. 11 at 5:30 pm
and November 13 at 9:00, both at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema.

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