Festward Ho! Take 2

Thus begins the Captain's sometimes-Heaven, sometimes-Hell wanderings, wherein he: quickly hooks up again with the mute white woman; deserts the army with her in tow (he rescues her again, this time from a sadistic officer); barely eludes the General's clutches by escaping with the woman on a schooner run by a tough-talking but tender-hearted Turk (Alexander Milic) to the lush island of Curacao; cleans up at the local casino; falls in love with the woman; lives the good life; attempts to tap into his childhood fondness for painting; curses the bilongo; embraces the bilongo; experiences discrimination at the hands of just about everyone because of his Indian heritage; and undergoes more dramatic epiphanies than a bushel of Dr. Zhivagos.

Told in flashback by a very old woman -- she relates the tale to a museum official seeking to acquire The Blue Virgin, which he's convinced she owns -- Desnudo con Naranjas, at its core, functions as a love story, but the script, co-written by Lamata, suffers from cardboard characterizations and a cliched narrative. And too often it uses the woman's deafness as a pretext to invoke the moldering movie convention of the protagonist launching into random talking-out-loud exposition jags in order to fill in his background or allow him to spin dimestore philosophy about this crummy world. Finally, in the spirit of the American TV miniseries, at its conclusion the film ties up every loose end, right down to what painting the old gal has hidden behind a drape -- as if you won't be able to guess.

Film festival director Nat Chediak notes with a shrug that he's taken a lot of heat from the women in his office for selecting Spanish writer/director Bigas Luna's Bambola (Saturday at midnight) to be part of this year's shindig, adding that one woman friend even walked out on the feature when she screened it. Well, based on Bambola's depiction of its title character, Luna won't be accepting a lifetime achievement award anytime soon from the National Organization for Women. But you may be tempted to walk out on it not so much for its political incorrectness -- Luna has no pretensions about making a statement here -- as for its soap-operatic turgidity.

Shapely Bambola (Valeria Marini, who bears a passing resemblance to singer Deborah Harry) and her gay brother Flavio (Stefano Dionisi) help their hard-drinking, shotgun-toting harridan mother (Anita Ekberg) run a seaside trattoria in Italy. (Although his previous films have been almost exclusively Spanish-language, Luna made Bambola in Italian.) Mom checks out of the proceedings in a first-scene accident when some gas canisters at the restaurant blow her to kingdom come, but her shotgun will make a fateful return before the film ends.

With the financial help of Flavio's oversize chum Ugo (Antonino Iuorio), the siblings turn the struggling trattoria into a successful pizzeria. Then Ugo, who adores Bambola, dies accidentally when he flies into a jealous rage and picks a fight with megahandsome Settimio (Manuel Bandera), with whom Bambola has been flirting at a water slide amusement park. That lands Settimio in the local Big House, run by a hulking, menacing-looking inmate badass named Furio (Jorge Perugorria, taking a cue from the ex-con character Ray Liotta played in Jonathan Demme's Something Wild). Bambola and Flavio pay Settimio a visit, and Furio, having set eyes on her, vows he must have her; he goes so far as to carve her name into his arm with a knife and to order a squad of his in-stir goons to gang-rape Settimio just to take the pretty-boy prisoner's mind off his woman. Oh, and Flavio confesses to his sister that he loves Settimio. Enough soap for you yet?

To help make things easier for Settimio inside, Bambola agrees to visit Furio -- you know what that means -- and he goes about his business brutally. (Earlier, Furio has told his head lackey, "Women need fucking and beating all the time.") But despite the disgrace, Bambola admits to her brother that she enjoyed the experience. "He was under my skin," she sighs in voice-over narration. No doubt Chediak's friend exited the theater at this juncture, which means she never learned that that first conjugal visit resulted in Bambola getting pregnant.

Furio is released from prison and heads straight for the pizzeria, where he and Bambola have lots of potent sex. "I want to be treated like a human being, not an animal," she tells him. "I'm an animal. I love you," he tells her. He wreaks havoc at the restaurant, locks her in her room, and tries to kill Flavio. The suds level rises higher and higher, eventually bubbling over and engulfing everyone during an extremely overheated climax involving Bambola, Furio, Flavio, and Mom's shotgun.

You don't need a degree in psychology to realize that Luna is dealing with archetypes here: Furio represents brute force, the primitive male; Bambola is raw female sexuality; and Flavio, in a twist, embodies the nurturing maternal instinct. But presenting your characters as archetypes makes no sense when you have no point to make other than that obsessive love can consume and destroy, a theme that has been explored more compellingly -- and less hyperbolically -- by countless filmmakers. To make matters worse, except for that opening sequence with Ekberg, which echoes midperiod Fellini, Bambola has little artistic merit.

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