'Especially on Sunday': 3 tales of life in Italy

October 01, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"Especially on Sunday," opening today at the Charles, is compilation of three short stories that have in common the writer and that they take place in Italy's beautiful Marecchia River Valley -- and that's all.

In fact, the amazement of the film is that the setting could spawn such disparate tales. It runs the gamut, you might say, from A to 543. It is testament to the spread of interests of screenwriter Tonino Guerra, who has over a very long career worked with Antonioni on his great films ("The Red Desert") and his not-so-great films ("Zabriskie Point," what a mutt!), Rosi and Fellini. The guy is Italian cinema: Among others, he wrote "Casanova," "Night of the Shooting Stars," "Marriage Italian Style," "The Tenth Victim," "Partner," and even . . . "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein," and don't ask me about that last one because I don't know.

The first story, "The Blue Dog," is almost a Disneyfied tale, sentimental and cozy, about man's best friend, even when man doesn't know who his best friends are. The man, in this case, is a gruff and solitary village barber-cobbler played by grumpy old Philippe Noiret.

Anyway, one day a dog with a blue paint spot on its head comes into his shop and into his life. Noiret, unbending and majestically alone, hates dogs and attempts to drive him away. But the dog knows best and persists. The more agitated Noiret becomes, the more the dog clings to him. One night, bedeviled beyond patience by the animal who now sits out in the street, barking, Noiret leans out the window with his shotgun. But at that moment, someone else shoots the dog and it slinks off, possibly to die.

Noiret is disconsolate and begins to track the wounded dog through the countryside, astonished to discover inside himself wellsprings of grief and feeling he thought he'd long since abandoned. The whole thing has a childlike, fabulous quality to it, an overarching belief in the power of love. It was directed, not surprisingly, by the able Guiseppe Tornatore, who did "Cinema Paradiso."

The second veers the film off into the erotic, directed with high abstract formalism by Giuseppe Bertolucci, Bernardo's brother. It's a dark and smoky tale of neurotic eros, the best kind (take it from me). Bruno Ganz, driving through the valley, meets a strange couple, a beautiful woman (Ornella Muti) and a seemingly insane man (Andrea Prodan). Bruno takes them back to his house where he tries to figure them out, with a long view toward seducing Muti. But he can't quite separate them, even though their bond is less sexual than childish.

In a last attempt to win the game, he sneaks out to call the woman; but even this decision has erotic consequences.

The last story, "Snow on Fire," is the least satisfactory, about a farm widow who comes to spy on her son's lovemaking with his new wife in the room beneath hers in the cold farmhouse, as

confessed to the village priest who has no idea what to do with the information. Female voyeurism being something of a rarity, it's a little creepy.

"Especially on Sunday"

Starring Philippe Noiret, Ornella Muti, Bruno Ganz and Maria Maddalena Fellini

Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, Giuseppe Bertolucci and Marco Tullio Giordana

Released by Miramax

Unrated

** 1/2

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