'After Midnight': Strained Cinema

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 24, 2005

Setting out to make a swoony paean to cinéma is a little like setting out to be funny. Almost immediately, there's a sense that you're forcing the issue. It's as if you're hammering home the punch line in every line of the joke.

Davide Ferrario's fantasy is about a shrinking-violet night watchman Martino (Giorgio Pasotti), who inhabits Turin's National Museum of Cinema, in the glorious Mole Antonelliana building. He watches Buster Keaton movies with a peculiar reverence that has more to do with writer-director Ferrario's passion than his own. The silent movie comedian -- Keaton, that is -- seems to speak (wordlessly, that is) to something in Martino's soul. But what exactly?

Martino falls in love with a fast-food restaurant employee, Amanda (Francesca Inaudi), who is soon on the lam after dumping hot oil on her obnoxious boss. When Martino shelters Amanda in the cavernous museum, he sets himself up for an inevitable passionate confrontation; this in turn sets him up for trouble with Amanda's likable car thief of a boyfriend (Fabio Troiano).

The movie is meant to evoke everything from Keaton's great silent era to the French New Wave. But its actual story, which apishly follows aspects of Francois Truffaut's "Jules and Jim," has such artificially created characters it's hard to get emotionally involved. They're part of a scheme with dramatic moments, not a drama.

There are some passing visual pleasures in the film, but ultimately, "After Midnight" is so taken with its own love of cinema, it forgets to lead you down the necessary dramaturgical path to make you fall in love, too.

After Midnight (Unrated, 89 minutes) -- Contains nudity, sexual situations, minor violence and some obscenity. In Italian with subtitles. At the AFI Silver Theatre.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company