Jasmine Trinca gives a prize-winning star performance in Italian director Sergio Castellitto’s emotionally charged tale of blue-collar female empowerment.
Translating into English as “lucky”, the title of Sergio Castellitto’s overheated Italian melodrama is clearly ironic. But there is otherwise little subtle or ambivalent about Fortunata, whose star Jasmine Trinca picked up the Best Actress prize in the Un Certain Regard section in Cannes yesterday. Shot in the same working-class Roman suburb as Pasolini’s neo-realist classic Mamma Roma, this compassionate character study strains to hit the same kind of female-centric heights as vintage Pedro Almodovar, but it falls short and ends up something of a soapy hot mess instead.
Castellitto has now directed six features in collaboration with his screenwriter wife Margaret Mazzantini, but he is better known as an award-winning actor with close to 100 screen credits, including a recurring role in the HBO series In Treatment. Launched in domestic theaters last week, Fortunata will struggle to make waves outside Italy, since Cannes reviews have been tepid and neither director nor star are major international names. That said, during the festival, the film’s sales agent True Colours announced deals in eight territories including France, China and Australia.
Trinca stars as Fortunata, a young mother and self-employed hairdresser fighting against impossible odds in contemporary Rome. As she rushes from one appointment to another in high heels and sweltering August heat, this hard-scrabble heroine dreams of opening her own modest beauty salon, but her energies are constantly drained by needy friends and prickly family issues. If it wasn’t for bad luck, she would have no luck at all.
Behind her brassy bleach-blonde bravado, Fortunata is a seething swamp of long-buried guilt and battered self-esteem. In the midst of filing for divorce, she still submits to regular bullying and sexual assault at the hands of her boorish soon-to-be-ex husband Franco (Edoardo Pesce). Perhaps understandably, the couple’s eight-year-old daughter Barbara (Nicole Centanni) has developed behavioral problems, and is undergoing therapy from hunky child psychologist Patrizio (Stefano Accorsi). Meanwhile, Fortunata’s would-be business partner, tattoo artist Chicano (Alessandro Borghi), is struggling to cope with drug addiction and an elderly mother bewildered by dementia (veteran German screen icon Hannah Schygulla).
There is ample material in Fortunata for a heart-rending tale of blue-collar female empowerment, but Castellitto’s noble intentions get swamped along the way in incontinent floods of histrionic excess, broad caricatures, clumsy allusions to Greek tragedy and psychodrama subplots that feel like half-baked afterthoughts. When the heavily telegraphed sexual sizzle between Fortunata and Patrizio finally erupts, their holiday romance is shot like an ice cream commercial, cheesy and artificial. Later, when their affair implodes for pointlessly contrived reasons, the dramatic effect is minimal because nothing real ever seemed to be at stake.
Castellitto and Mazzantini also load the dice of audience sympathy so heavily in the saintly Fortunata’s favor, they almost risk producing the opposite effect. There are certainly manipulative, repulsive rapists like Franco in real life, but Accorsi overplays him as the kind of reptilian stage villain who belongs more in a horror movie than a social realist drama. Borghi’s Chicano must be the most benign, photogenic, healthy junkie ever seen on the big screen. And Schygulla is wasted in a thankless semi-cameo role that gives her barely a handful of incoherent lines.
Trinca is the film’s trump card and saving grace. The 36-year-old star gives a lusty, full-blooded, emotionally raw performance far removed from her past screen roles with Nanni Moretti, the Taviani brothers and others. Castellitto repeatedly shoots her in golden sunshine, skimpy clothes and bright colors, defiantly sexy but not overly sexualized, her brash beauty worn as armor against a harsh world. There are agreeable shades of Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich here.
Gian Filippo Corticelli’s cinematography is also noteworthy, especially the extended aerial tracking shot across a sun-bathed neighborhood that opens the film, and a magical aquarium sequence where dolphins bless Fortunata and Patrizio with kisses. A pop-heavy mixtape soundtrack deploys Elton John, The Cure, Antony Hegarty and more for maximum heart-tugging impact. But a few strong ingredients and one great performance are not enough to save a syrupy, overcooked pudding of a film. Unfortunately.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Production companies: Universal Pictures International, Indigo Film, HT Film, Alien Produzioni
Cast: Jasmine Trinca, Stefano Accorsi, Alessandro Borghi, Edoardo Pesce, Nicole Centanni, Hanna Schygulla
Director: Sergio Castellitto
Screenwriter: Margaret Mazzantini
Producers: Nicola Guiliano, Francesca Cima, Carlotta Calori, Viola Prestieri
Cinematographer: Gian Filippo Corticelli
Editor: Chiara Vullo
Music: Arturo Annecchino
Sales company: True Colours