Giuseppe Tornatore is not the first young filmmaker to wilt in the heat of devotion to a past master (see: DePalma, Brian vis a vis Hitchcock, Alfred), but he may be the most gifted. When the young Sicilian scored an international hit last year with the boyhood reverie Cinema Paradiso, he was widely credited with reviving moribund Italian moviemaking all by himself. What he really did, for the most part, was pay homage to Federico Fellini - to that noble prankster's gift for nostalgia, his Mediterranean warmth, his potent commingling of magic, grotesquery, and comic bawdiness.
Once again, the maestro lurks behind almost every image of Tornatore's third feature film, Everybody's Fine. From his calculated visit to Rimini (Fellini's hometown), bound by dreamy blue fog, to the dominant nightmare of an ominous, tendril-draped hot-air balloon that suggests the fantasies of 8 Luckily, second-hand Joe is one talented mockingbird. Working with cowriter Tonino Guerra (who collaborated with cooler customer Michelangelo Antonioni on no fewer than eight films), Tornatore has fashioned a film of which Fellini himself could be duly proud. It's imitative but authentic.
Italian tragicomedy is the form. But quite often, farce provides the motivating power behind the self-deceptions of one Matteo Scuro, a garrulous, doting father who wants to believe nothing but the best about the lives and careers of his offspring. In turn, his children try to conceal their awful failures so as not to disillusion Papa. Inevitably, the familial house of cards must fall.
Poor Matteo has, then, a delusional touch of Willy Loman in him. But he brings to mind even more vividly characters from two movies - the aging couple treated shabbily by their self-absorbed children in Ozu's masterpiece, Tokyo Story, and lonesome Art Carney crossing the country with his cat in Harry and Tonto. Carney won a 1974 Oscar for his performance. Mastroianni is worthy of one: Not suave but wintry here, he brings resonance to the smallest acts and gestures. When a Naples streetwalker shows him a bit of leg, old Matteo pulls up his cuff and shows her some of his. Sitting alone on the hotel bed he shared with his bride 45 years earlier, he gravely takes his own photograph. Ensconced at the head of a banquet table for twelve, he knows most of the empty chairs will never again be occupied by his beloved family, but he orders the waiter to set down the dozen plates of pasta anyway.
In the hands of another actor, such moments might feel mushy and manipulative, but Mastroianni brings such sunny dignity to Matteo that we embrace him from start to finish. The trip takes him on a package tour of a bustling Italy far less congenial than the one in the travel brochures - from teeming Naples to traffic-clogged Rome, to busy Florence, graffiti-spattered Milan and chilly Turin. We visit one city per Scuro child, in other words, and at each stop Matteo suffers another shock to his private system of illusions. Marino Cenna, Roberto Nobile, Valeria Cavali, and Norma Martelli ably portray the children harboring dark secrets of failure. The fifth, we learn, is the greatest disappointment of all, a suicide.
Even as Tornatore strips away the Scuro family's emollient lies and myths, he balances the film with charming, poetic Fellini-isms that keep us always enthralled. Matteo's grown children appear to him as bright-faced youngsters (little Alvaro is played by Toto Cascio, the boy from Cinema Paradiso); a night sky filled with fireflies proves to be an inspired fake; Matteo's unscheduled side trip to Rimini, where another delusion short-circuits the possibility of a new life with a lovely fellow pensioner (French actress Michele Morgan, a burnished jewel now) is cast in dreamy light.
In fact, Everybody's Fine is nothing if not a delicate dream about time and deception and a father's idealism. Like Cinema Paradiso, it's full of sentiment, but this is a richer, deeper movie that reaches for more. Still spellbound by Fellini's great influence, Tornatore is nonetheless growing up. If, at 32, he must light every last candle in the Cathedral of Saint Federico, let's hope that when devotions are done he can find the front door.
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Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore; written by Giuseppe Tornatore and Tonino Guerra; with Marcello Mastroianni, Marino Cenna, Roberto Nobile, Valeria Cavali, and Norma Martelli.
Now playing at CocoWalk 8, 3015 Grand Ave., Coral Gables; 448-6641.