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talltale's reviews view profile

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Slam-Bang, Glub-Glub Fun  
on August 22, 2006 - 3:19 PM PDT
  of Poseidon (Special Edition) (2006)
1 out of 3 members found this review helpful

When a disaster movie comes along that is as good as POSEIDON, you'll wonder once again about most of our supposedly intelligent film critics--always ready to pounce on and shred another would-be blockbuster. Well, they've managed it again (The New Yorker's David Denby was a rare exception), so word-of mouth will have to make up for their misinformation. If the reaction of the 20 to 30 audience members with whom I saw the film in a NYC theatre on the Monday afternoon of its first week, this may very well happen. (If not, maybe DVD audiences will be the ones who push it out of the red.)

Granted, the dialog here won't win awards, and the characterization is minimal. But this actually helps "Poseidon" launch ahead at such a fast pace with so many breathless moments along the way. Because we don't know much about any of these people, we don't have to get involved in anything except their desperate escape attempt.

Director Wolfgang Petersen and writer Mark Protosevich have jerry-rigged a good enough sequence of events to keep us on the edge of our seats, watching intently as the characters try to hold on their own and each other's life. They behave well or badly in the moment, and as the movie progresses, we follow along with each of them, hoping they'll make it. This is not great art, but it's damned good adventure moviemaking--lean and thrusting--with special effects that serve their purpose well. By the end, you'll mourn the dead, salute the living and feel you've been through something worth surviving.
Silly (sort of) Fun  
on August 21, 2006 - 8:02 PM PDT
  of The Sentinel (2006)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful

Silly but still interesting, THE SENTINEL offers one of the dumber situation/premises of any thriller of late but then proceeds to create a relatively involving hour and 40 minutes from it. An OK cast and some slick photography help, even if the writing goes slack from time to time and there are holes aplenty along the way. Michael Douglas may be getting a little long in the tooth for "action" scenes (although he--or his double--does appear to handle them with some panache). For the rare opportunity to see another scene with the great Jackie Burroughs, however, the movie is worth a watch. (Kim Basinger is better than usual, too.) Interesting fact: the director here, Clark Johnson, doubles as actor (under the name of Clarque Johnson) in a subsidiary role, and does a good job in both capacities.
The Perils of Pampering Your Man  
on August 20, 2006 - 11:55 AM PDT
  of Gilles' Wife (2004)
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful

Belgian filmmaker Frederick Fonteyne's GILLES' WIFE follows his very different but equally worthwhile "A Pornographic Affair" ("An Affair of Love" here in the U.S., since marketing to a classy audience is still a bit tricky). His new film stars that luminous--and a little bizarre--actress Emmanuelle Devos ("Read My Lips," "Kings & Queen"), the interesting but not much seen on these shores French actor Clovis Cornillac and Laura Smet (Chabrol's "The Bridesmaid").

More a character study (and a damned good one) than anything else, the movie traces the time when a seemingly happy wife discovers her husband is cheating on her. The character's reaction to this is as peculiar as it is believable, given the utterly convincing performances and the measured, assured direction (and co-writing) of M. Fonteyne. Without doing more than simply telling his story, the filmmaker addresses the role and place of man and woman (the film is set in small-town France shortly before WWII) and the perils of repression and displaced aggression.

This is a gloriously beautiful film to view: Fonteyne and his cinematographer Virginie Saint-Martin capture everything--from the changing seasons to the texture and feel of dirt, wood, rain, fabric and all else--with amazing clarity. Mostly, though, it is Devos and Cornillac who draw us into their increasingly untenable situation and simply do not let us go until it is played out.
Ozon: A little background & history  
on August 20, 2006 - 6:41 AM PDT
  of X 2000: The Collected Shorts of Francois Ozon (1998)
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful

X 2000, a compilation of the short films of Francois Ozon, makes it immediately apparent how much this interesting filmmaker has grown in the decade between "Truth of Dare" and "5x2." These early films are fast, frisky, well constructed and just a tad too easy: the end of T or D, for instance, is indeed surprising but completely unbelievable when you stop to think about it for a moment. This writer/director's ability to draw fine performances from his actors, many of them untutored, is pretty uncanny, and his alertness to the subtleties of sexual endeavor is fun, generally wise if sometimes too simple. The last film in the set, from which the compilation's title comes, was un-subtitled on the DVD I received. But because this eight-minute movie contains nearly zero dialog and lots of full-frontal (via a hunk named Bruno Slagmulder), you may possibly be able to tolerate the lack of translation.
A Little Late, Perhaps, but Passable  
on August 19, 2006 - 7:43 AM PDT
  of Don't Tell (2005)

Sometimes Italian movies successful in their home country seem to have discovered subject matter five to ten years after moviemakers here in the U.S. have nearly exhausted the material. "Ignorant Fairies" (called "His Secret Life" on these shores), about a woman who discovers her husband's gay identity, is a case in point. Now comes DON'T TELL ("The Beast in the Heart") as another example. The hidden subject here is not closeted homosexuality, and though it becomes obvious early on, the movie may still hold your interest throughout.

This is due to the manner in which the heroine begins to learn and then comes to terms with the information she has clearly been repressing--and the reactions of other family members to the situation. The subsidiary characters and their work locale are interesting and fun, the photography (Fabio Cianchetti) is lovely, but the (co)writing and direction (by Cristina Comencini, from her novel) are barely adequate. It's the acting, more than anything else, that buoys the film: Giovanna Mezzogiorno ("Facing Windows") Alessio Boni and Luigi Lo Cascio (the brothers in "The Best of Youth") and Stefania Rocca ("Casomai" and Argento's "The Card Player") and Angela Finnochiaro contribute much in making "Don't Tell" worth a watch.
South African Ensemble Piece  
on August 17, 2006 - 8:35 PM PDT
  of Cape of Good Hope (2004)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful

From South Africa, and without the high-falutin', bordering-on-sanctimonious baggage that weighed down "Tsotsi," CAPE OF GOOD HOPE won't win any Academy Awards over here, but it's a pleasant and interesting way to spend 90-odd minutes. Showing a cross-section of lives--poor, bourgeois and upper-crust--in South Africa today, the movie links characters and stories, withholding one surprising connection for the finale.

This is somewhat sentimental stuff but because of its exotic (for Americans, at least) locale and "can't help but be interesting" look at post-Apartheid life, the movie will probably pull you in and hold you for the designated time. Nice performances from the whole cast (including the many animals: the setting is a veterinary clinic) make this a pleasant evening's watch.
A Silly Little Furry Thing  
on August 16, 2006 - 9:26 PM PDT
  of Lemming (2005)
3 out of 5 members found this review helpful

A loser of a movie that's all the more disappointing because of its first-rate cast and a writer/director who, a few years back, gave us "With a Friend like Harry," LEMMING skirts dangerously close to the junk pile. It begins well, but less than half-way through, you'll start to get itchy because the thing moves way too slowly to impart much besides incipient boredom. Soon, you begin to worry that the movie really has nothing to say. And you're right. By the end, characterization, logic and sense have long gone, and all that's left is your anger at being "had." Does Dominik Moll actually think there is any worthwhile content here, not to mention actual thrills (comparisons to Hitchcock are plain silly), intelligent symbols or even a decent metaphor? You can't help but wonder.
An American Original  
on August 15, 2006 - 1:42 PM PDT
  of CSA: The Confederate States of America (2003)
2 out of 3 members found this review helpful

The first thing we see in Kevin Willmott's gloriously funny and pertinent mockumentary CSA: CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA is a quote from George Bernard Shaw to the effect that, if you tell the truth, you had best make it funny or they'll hang you for your trouble. Shaw was right--and brilliantly funny--and if Willmott does not come up to his level, he's still made a movie of which I believe Shaw and his Shavians would quite approve. Imagine a string of absolutely top-level "Saturday Night Live" or "Mad TV" sketches, all pertaining to the same theme, strung together into a nearly-90-minute parade of wit and satire, and you'll have a pretty good idea of the film at hand.

What might have resulted had the South won the Civil War is the question here, and the answer is only a level or two removed from the reality of today's life. Willmott presents a would-be documentary in the style of something from the BBC, complete with commercials for household products and the Home Shopping Network--all skewed to his very clever theme. This guy and his crew know and understand history, entertainment, cinema and the human penchant for hypocrisy (as did Shaw) and they serve all of it up to a fare-thee-well. In addition to the laughs, you may occasionally find yourself a little saddened by what you see and hear, which is, I suspect, exactly what Mr. Willmott wants. This is a splendid example of an American "independent."
Glum 'n Dumb -- Movie & Characters  
on August 15, 2006 - 1:29 PM PDT
  of Mrs. Harris (2005)
0 out of 1 members found this review helpful

As good as Annette Bening & Ben Kingsley are in this HBO bio film of an event (rather than of people, as was the company's earlier "Warm Springs" or "The Life and Death of Peter Sellars"), MRS. HARRIS is finally way too bland & uninteresting to merit the time spent. Though it details the enormously unhealthy relationship between the (in)famous Scarsdale diet doc and his mistress of several years, it doesnt do much more than take us over the same tired ground we already know.

Crappy relationships ought to be more awful, or maybe more fun, or at least less tiresome than what we see here. That the made-for-cable movie received some Emmy nominations (most foolishly for Ellen Burstyn's "gone in 60 seconds" role) must indicate that this was something less than a banner year for TV. Perhaps writer/director Phyllis Nagy, whose first film this is as director (she's co-written another one--"Found in the Street"--that I don't think was ever released), was not the best choice for either task.
Lucky Number Seven  
on August 14, 2006 - 8:48 PM PDT
  of Seven Girlfriends (2000)

Place SEVEN GIRLFRIENDS right up there with the best romantic comedies of the past decade (maybe two). This particular genre is a hard one to master but director Paul Lazarus sure knows how. His cast is aces--every single one of 'em--and his story of an aging "player" (a terrific Tim Daly) who begins to realize that something is amiss will resonate with as many guys as gals. The script, surprisingly inventive and funny, just gets better as it goes along. Although it proved popular--even winning awards--at film festivals, this movie never received a theatrical release. I caught it on cable TV and couldn't believe how good it was. Add it to your queue, and I'll bet you'll start recommending it to YOUR friends, too.
Nothing to be "Sorry" about  
on August 14, 2006 - 10:53 AM PDT
  of Sorry, Haters (2005)
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful

A kind of psychological mystery that tends toward the thriller genre that is a also finely-tuned character study that features a brilliant performance from its leading lady and--most tellingly of all--approaches how we live now and the events of 9/11/01 with an original perspective that makes that day frightening again in a whole new manner (this is a mere portion of what you'll get), SORRY, HATERS is so shocking in so many surprising ways that I haven't stopped thinking about it for several days. It succeeds as entertainment, provocation and mind-expander--and seems to grow more powerful and mysterious the more I consider it.

Robin Wright Penn, who has helped improve movie after movie from "The Princess Bride" through "Forest Gump," "White Oleander" and "Nine Lives," reaches a new plateau here: that of taking absolute ownership of a film. She manages this despite the very fine work of the rest of the cast, which includes Sandra Oh, Josh Hamilton, Elodie Bouchez and an especially rich and beautiful performance from leading man Abdel Kechiche (who is himself writer/director of the 2005 Cesar-winning French film "L'Esquive"). The writer/director of "Sorry Haters" is Jeff Stanzler, who made the interesting "Jumpin' at the Boneyard" back in 1992, and two short films since. That this 2005 piece didn't put Stanzler on the map of big-time moviemakers will remain as mysterious to me as does his movie.

I will say no more about it, except that you might, at its conclusion, want to turn to the Special Features and watch the roundtable discussion between a group that includes Tim Robbins, Mary Louise Parker and Julian Schnabel, all of whom seem as blown away by the film as was I. Certainly, for all of us, Muslims in America and a sweet phrase like "I want to give you something my parents gave me" may now resonate in quite a different manner.
A Little Invention, Please  
on August 13, 2006 - 5:30 PM PDT
  of L'Enfant (2005)
1 out of 3 members found this review helpful

I am growing less convinced of the vaunted talent of filmmaking team the Dardennes brothers, particularly after seeing L'ENFANT. Again (as in "The Promise, " Rosetta," and "The Son"), the two show us the working-to-lower classes, done in what you might call a kind of Bresson-lite mode: intense close-ups of characters in situations that demand immediate attention. Terrible things are done but redemption rears its lovely head, at least enough to dangle the possibility in front of us--and the characters. But what of the dialog? It is flat in the extreme.

None of the Dardennes' people seem to have acquaintance with particularity. "The Child" offers one short scene in which a couple of characters joke and laugh a bit, which is a nice change, but generally everything seems written as if by robots (the actors do an amazing job, considering). All the Dardennes' movies grip me to an extent, due to their subject matter. But I am beginning to find a whiff of laziness in the consistently generic dialog that rarely helps us understand character--something dialog usually does. I think it is not by chance that so many of the people in the Dardennes' films seem such ciphers. Brothers, you're fine with place and situation, so take a chance with your dialog: invent!
Second Iraq War: The Early Days   
on August 13, 2006 - 4:45 PM PDT
  of Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire's Edge (2004)
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful

BATTLEGROUND: 21 DAYS ON THE EMPIRE'S EDGE is a fine little documentary on the beginnings of our Iraq occupation. While it lets us hear Iraqis talking pro and con about the U.S. invasion, the American military trying to explain and excuse itself, and a young reporter who speaks Arabic hope that something good might possibly come out of all this, you still couldn't call this short movie balanced, although it is clearly trying. Because it was filmed only months after we began this war, it is in no way current.

So much has changed for the very, very worse, that hearing some of the comments now is enough to bring tears to your eyes. I wish Americans had been able to see this film two or three years ago--not that this would have prevented much, since utter stupidity linked to abusive power tends to steamroll everything in its path, for a time, at least. But just to have been able to see and hear more from the country we are destroying (these days, by encouraging it to destroy itself) might have changed a few minds a little sooner.

The most interesting sections for me detail the reunion between a young Iraqi man who has lived in the U.S. for a decade since the first Iraq war, during which he, at the behest of the U.S., fought against Sadaam and, when the U.S. did not provide the expected back-up, was tortured for his trouble. The scenes of his meetings with his relatives are terribly moving and full of intense family love that should help bridge the culture/country gap for anyone lucky enough to witness them.
Shepard, Coasting  
on August 12, 2006 - 5:51 PM PDT
  of Don't Come Knocking (2005)
2 out of 4 members found this review helpful

As a writer Sam Shepard continues to coast along, tossing out to us variations on the same tired themes he's been diddling with for decades. In DON'T COME KNOCKING he does it again, with even less success than usual. Aging cowboy actor has an epiphany (which, of course, leaves everyone else in the lurch) and goes searching for roots which lead to offspring and a whole bunch of hugely emotional scenes between him, his ex-lady and newfound kids. He gives actors like Jessica Lange, Gabriel Mann, Fairuza Balk and himself a load of angry/unhappy confrontations in which they can emote to beat the band. And god knows, they do.

Unfortunately, he has written the kind of characters whose reality begins at the beginning of a scene and ends at the end of it. Try imagining these people before or after any of their big to-dos and you'll understand how paltry they are as characters. The actors do a fine in-the-moment job but, interestingly, it's Shepard--always a good less-is-more guy--who comes off best, as do Sarah Polley and Eva Marie Saint, who can also do lots with little.

Director Wim Wenders is clearly taken with some aspects of America (as he was similarly with his and Shepard's "Paris, Texas"), and these seem to fit into this hugely constricted vision. I prefer Wenders in his "Wings of Desire"/"Million Dollar Hotel" mode(s), but if you are a fan of this kind of "loner drivel," by all means, give it a shot. The photography is aces, and the film begins with one of the most charming/pretty bits of landscape legerdemain that I've seen in awhile. It's a gorgeous opening, at least.
Gays with Quirks--Funny and Real  
on August 12, 2006 - 7:29 AM PDT
  of Adam and Steve (2005)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful

Finally: a grown-up, original, gay romantic comedy. Some of us thought it would never happen, but Craig Chester's (he wrote it, directed it and plays one of the leads) ADAM & STEVE proves us wrong. The first few minutes, as you may have heard, does indeed contain one of the truly gross scenes in modern filmmaking. But since it's also hilarious and shocking, you may appreciate it more than you imagine, particularly since it is later used to a splendid purpose which proves that--rather than never having to say you're sorry--love can sometimes mean accepting the most offensive of moments from your partner, understanding them, and continuing to love. If this sounds a bit pompous and heavy, the movie is anything but.

Buoyed by two wonderful performances from Mr. Chester and Malcolm Gets, and two more marvelous ones from Parker Posey (one of her best) and Chris Kattan (whom I have not enjoyed this much since "Monkeybone"), it works because of its quirks. The characters are just off-kilter enough to seem surprisingly real, and their life in NYC should ring all kinds of bells for gay New Yorkers. In addition, Chester provides some lovely family humor, waspy and Jewish, and he's chosen a cast that ranges from the aforementioned four to Julie Haggerty, Paul Sand, Melinda Dillon and more--all of whom hits their notes like the old pros they are. There is plenty of humor here, too, much of it laugh-out-loud, and when, as the finale approaches, the film almost turns into a musical, well, why not. Hey: It's gay, Gets is a Broadway musical star who's been nominated for Tony, and the music is GOOD!
Philippine Scare-orist  
on August 11, 2006 - 5:16 PM PDT
  of Cavite (2005)
5 out of 5 members found this review helpful

Somewhat maddening but worth the watch, CAVITE is most surprising due to the fact that, once you've finished viewing, you realize that the camera has remained almost solely on one person (quite often, his back) for the entire movie. Yet--because of the situation and filmmaking style--it still grabs you. Initially off-putting due to some jerky hand-held camerawork that is completely unnecessary (both the jerks and the scene itself), the movie settles down to follow a young Philippine-American who has returned to his birthplace to "visit" his family. One of the early faults of the film is that he must already know that his mom and sister have been kidnapped, yet we see him talking and arguing with his girlfriend on the phone twice, seemingly much more concerned with her problems than with those of his imperiled relatives. Does he know what is going on, or doesn't he? We (and perhaps the filmmakers) don't seem all that clear about it. Once he arrives in the Philippines, however, the movie picks up its pace and doesn't let go till the end. (its entire length is a mere 80 minutes).

Economy of budget must account for many interesting elisions: the big bank "heist" is never shown (he goes in, he comes out); the results of his "assignment" are simply unseen (and unheard--which would have been easy and cheap enough to manage); ditto the final result of his search. All this makes a problematic story seem ever more absurd, yet I hung on for the duration. As, I suspect, will you. Politically, the movie is disturbing in a worthwhile way because it slams you up against terrorism by putting you in touch with the "oppressed" in a manner that is both tricky and enticing. I'll be interested in discovering what this filmmaking team of Neill Dela Llana and Ian Gamazon does next. Here, Dela Llana co-directed, co-produced, co-wrote, co-edited, and did the cinematography; Gamazon co-directed, co-produced, co-wrote, co-edited, and acted the lead. Talk about jacks-of-all-trades! If the filmmakers were any less talented, they could be accused of having made a vanity production. But they're not, and they didn't. "Cavite," for all its faults, is still quite an accomplishment.
on August 10, 2006 - 8:42 PM PDT
  of Poseidon (Widescreen) (2006)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful

When a disaster movie comes along that is as good as POSEIDON, you'll wonder once again about most of our supposedly intelligent film critics--always ready to pounce on and shred another would-be blockbuster. Well, they've managed it again, so word-of mouth will have to make up for their misinformation. If the reaction of the 20 to 30 audience members with whom I saw the film in a NYC theatre on the Monday afternoon of its first week is any indication, this may very well happen. Granted, the dialog here won't win awards and the characterization is minimal. But this actually helps "Poseidon" launch ahead at such a fast pace with so many breathless moments along the way. Because we don't know much about any of these people, we don't have to get involved in anything except their desperate escape attempt.

Director Wolfgang Petersen and writer Mark Protosevich have jerry-rigged a good enough sequence of events to keep us on the edge of our seats, watching intently as the characters try to hold on their own and each other's life. They behave well or badly in the moment, and as the movie progresses, we follow along with each of them, hoping they'll make it. This is not great art, but it's damned good adventure moviemaking--lean and thrusting--with special effects that serve their purpose well. By the end, you'll mourn the dead, salute the living and feel you've been through something worth surviving.

I notice that the DVD release includes a "Special Edition" complete with Bonus Disc, as well as this plain ol' widescreen version--which looks to me to be the theatrical release that I saw (numbering 98 minutes). Since the length is not given on the site of the Special Edition, I can't compare. But if I were you, I'd take this lean, mean theatrical version over anything with "added" content.
Just Avrich  
on August 10, 2006 - 8:29 PM PDT
  of The Last Mogul: The Life and Times of Lew Wasserman (2004)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful

Pretty much what its title proclaims, THE LAST MOGUL: THE LIFE & TIMES OF LEW WASSERMAN, a documentary written and directed by Barry Avrich, is pretty much avrich--or a bit below avrich. I knew more about Wasserman when I finished watching than I did when I started, but I still knew not nearly enough. But then Lew was one secretive guy who never gave up many of those secrets. Clearly there were ties to the Mafia, to labor unions, to politicians (Ronald Reagan is a sterling--if that's the right word--example) & other assorted sleaze. Friends of the guy talked to Avrich but not family members or Lew himself (he's dead now, but while alive, he kept his own counsel).

The film is most interesting as a history, a bit disjointed, of Hollywood from the 30s onwards--and Lew's place in it. I think most would agree that he began to lose his power & control as he grew older, but then, don't we all? Depending on the extent of your present knowledge, you'll learn something here, but not too much.
The Lost Opportunity  
on August 9, 2006 - 5:14 PM PDT
  of The Lost City (2005)
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful

I don't know why it is that "labors of love" so often turn out below the expectations of both the filmmaker and audience. Don't most independent (and even many mainstream) movies start out as exactly this? Perhaps the best thing is not to proclaim your project as such; just do it--and take your licks. All this speculation has to do, of course, with Andy Garcia's THE LOST CITY, which offers us Cuba just prior to, during and after the revolution. I admit to lasting out only a hundred minutes of the movie's hundred-and-forty-odd length. By then, believability had taken such a distant back-seat that I suspected the trunk had opened up some miles previous and the poor thing just bounced out.

That bounce occurs when the character played by Garcia threatens at gunpoint one of the lead villains and is not soon shot in the back by other one, who is standing right behind Garcia, as big as you please. Both baddies, by the way, have earlier shown themselves quite capable of torturing and killing other family members. Now, suddenly, they just let the incident pass. Ah, moviemaking! All this is preceded (and followed) by so much breast-beating and other signs of tsuris that I really wished I could join with these unhappy folk and get involved. Alas, it was not to be.

The photography is gorgeous, as befits the time and place (although the editing seemed a bit clunky now and again); the music and dance are flavorful and fun; and the acting by a stellar cast is as good as the screenplay allows (Bill Murray seems particularly adroit). As to that screenplay: Once in a while it rises to intelligence and thoughtfulness, but more often the dialog is either expository and creaky or paint-by-numbers. As for the movie's history and politics, it does admit to Batista's nastiness but seems even angrier at Castro's and his minions' party-line pig-headedness and their own brand of ruthlessness. While you can't argue with these "findings," neither can you find them particularly edifying or entertaining. Sometime love pays off, sometimes not.
Lordy, Lordy!  
on August 8, 2006 - 8:29 PM PDT
  of Padre Pio: Miracle Man (2000)
1 out of 2 members found this review helpful

I'm not sure just who--besides staunch Italian Catholics--is the intended audience for PADRE PIO: MIRACLE MAN. This very long bit of hagiography about the little boy named Francisco Forgione who grew up to become Sergio Castellitto--whoops: that's the actor who plays him as a man--and was eventually canonized by the Vatican, runs three-and-one-half hours and is divided into two parts. We only managed Part I, mostly because the movie is incredibly flat, despite Castellitto's usual good work and that of the rest of the cast.

Over a decade ago, the director Carlo Carlei made a near-classic of Italian cinema called "Flight of the Innocent" about a young boy whose family deals in kidnapping for profit. This remains a wonderful film, though Carlei has done nothing near its equal since. I realize that the director and everyone else concerned with this project, which was made for Italian TV, probably had to be on good behavior--which is not the best way to ensure anything approaching art. Still one might have wished for something more than this cross between "The Song of Bernadette" and an "Exorcist"-lite.

Interestingly enough, a few years after this 2000 film was made, Castellitto went on to make a much better movie--"My Mother's Smile"--in which he plays, and equally well, an atheist.
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