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"Dottore" Joe Moretti travels round Sicily doing screen tests for the big Roman studios. He's a conman and takes money or favours for his efforts. Beata, a young illiterate convent girl desperately wants to change her life and falls for him, belatedly he realises his feelings for her. Their love affair is doomed when he's arrested.Written by
David Morgans <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Joe Morelli (Sergio Castellitto) is a flimflam man who is driving around the rural villages of Sicily shortly after World War II selling potential stardom for fifteen hundred lira. He has a motion picture camera and loudspeaker on his truck. As he drives through the villages he broadcasts to the people that he is from the film industry of Roma and he is giving screen tests in order to discover natural talent.
He sets up his truck and tent typically in the town square. His technique is to tell everyone that they have a wonderful face, hidden talent, that they are naturals and diamonds in the rough. He hands out fliers with some dialogue from "Gone with the Wind" on them that they should practice reading before appearing before his camera. He has discovered that people will fall for his flattery and pay him for the fake screen tests.
As we watch the film we discover that people will put their hearts and souls into the experience of appearing before his camera. They don't just read the lines from Gone with the Wind. They tell their life stories in miniature. They bare their hearts and souls to the flimflam man in the hope that someone will hear and see their anguish, their pain, their experience. To Morelli, who has been to Hollywood and failed, this is just a way to make a lira. He has a gift for the hustle and is blind to the real emotion that he evokes.
A woman believes his teenaged daughter has the talent to make it in the movies. She begs Morelli to take her to Roma. She even has sex with him and promises to allow him to be her daughter's first lover. But Morelli moves on to the next town. He is stopped by the local police chief, but Morelli manages to flatter him into appearing before his camera and then applauds the chief's performance. Three highwaymen stop to rob Morelli. He is able to convince them that Roma longs for their raw talent. And so on, as he travels over the cobblestones and over the winding roads.
Finally he meets beautiful Beata (Tiziana Lodato) who is 15 or 18. She isn't sure. She works in the convent, bathing the sick and scrubbing the floors. She exposes herself to the local tax man to raise the 1500 lira needed for Morelli's screen test. She is strikingly beautiful from head to toe, and the tax man exclaims, "You are a statue!" when he sees her body. Morelli is reluctant to get involved with someone so young even though she throws herself at him.
What happens after this I will not say since it would spoil the film for those who have not seen it. But watch for the con man to get conned, among other things. Despite his villainy, there is a sense that Morelli is a man that we can identify with and understand. I think it is this quality that director Giuseppe Tornatore has developed in his character that carries the film, and Sergio Castellitto whom I saw recently in Non ti muovere (Don't Move) (2004) really becomes the part.
Tornatore, who made a splash with the critically acclaimed Cinema Paradiso (1988) wrote the original material here and worked on the script in addition to directing. While I thought Cinema Paradiso was an excellent film, I liked this one even more. Both are original works of art, but I found L'uomo delle stelle more engaging. Particularly striking are the beautiful village scenes, the faces of the people, and the photography of the Sicilian countryside and ruins.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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