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Pursuit of love, a microchip, and the magic of Gorodish
The spirit of 'Diva' hovers over this debut feature by the young Italian director Davide Marengo, which, like Jean-Jacques Beineix's classic 1981 first film neatly earns the designation, comedy/thriller/romance. In 'Diva' two sets of rival heavies were looking for a pirated tape of a recording-shy opera singer, whose innocent maker falls in with a guru named Gorodish and his cute Vietnamese girlfriend. There's a nasty cop involved in a crime ring too, but nobody can resist the devices of Gorodish, the smartest guru who ever puffed cigars in a free-standing bath tub.
Would that 'Night Bus,' which revolves around a similarly intense treasure hunt, were as clear as 'Diva,' or took the time to linger as satisfyingly over its main characters, soaking up their charisma and cruising their nifty pads. There's a lot of running around in Marengo's plot (adopted from the eponymous novel by Giampiero Rigosi) and the result isn't as satisfying and debonair as the little novel by Delacorta Beineix worked from. But Night Bus still has fun with its wistful romances; and its double-double-crosses provides a fun ride.
This time there's no Diva. Instead the prize is a microchip worth a lot of money to some shady foreign billionaire. It's fallen into the hands of somebody shady--a barman named Andrea (Ivan Franek). Almost immediately, a soulful young woman who lives by her wits named Leila (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) steals it from Andrea. She's pursued by two heavies who're on the trail, Diolaiti (Roberto Citran) and Garofano (Francesco Pannofino), and, losing her shoes and her wallet and her composure to the chase, she pals up with Franz (Valerio Mastandrea), driver of a night bus to Rome airport. Franz is a lonely guy. He's also a former philosophy student ("an intellectual!" exclaims Leila) who owes a big gambling debt to his old pal Titti (Mario Rivera). Meanwhile, working for a mysterious billionaire whose face we never see is a sophisticated, but also like Franz lonely, ex-cop called Carlo Matera (Ennio Fantastichini). Matera is in constant touch with the billionaire, as one of the heavies is in touch with his boss and his wife and mom, each of whom has a comical identifying cellphone ring. Matera has $4 to pay for the microchip, which needless to say is an important detail.
Well, that's about enough, but I have to tell you that Carlo is engineering a reunion with an old flame (Anna Romantowska) whom he regrets jilting long ago. She was too revolutionary for him. I wouldn't say like the Variety reviewer that this is "a major detour." This movie, after all, is one "major detour" after another: Matera's reunion rhymes nicely with Franz and Leila's tentative attraction of opposites. It's just that, as I said, things are never as neat as Delacorte's and Beineix's 'Diva,' and it would be much nicer if they were.
Marengo and everybody involved has a good time. The music is a bit obvious, but it does the right things at the right times and highlights the sense of fun. The movie tries a little too hard in its look and its content to rival American thriller romances, particularly in a chase sequence involving two buses that feels clumsy and unnecessary, though at least it rides along with the bus theme and helps build Franz's cowardly lion persona. The latter sequences, in which there are more double-crosses and escapes and we're held in suspense to the last minute over whether the couple will run off together or not, do not disappoint. The closing credits, in which evidently everybody who worked on the film and some of their children march happily out of a bus, again recalls the happy cinema of the Eighties by invoking the early Jonathan Demme.
Shown at the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center in June 2008.
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