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‘The Star Maker’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 08, 1996

Giuseppe Tornatore, who made the second most popular foreign movie in America (the 1989 "Cinema Paradiso"), knows what to serve his audience: Sicilian syrup.

In "The Star Maker," set in the 1940s, his characters reach almost compulsively for cuteness. They're practically afflicted with endearing gestures. They don't seem to be real people, so much as human puppies. As always, Tornatore garnishes the drama with his rhapsodic feelings about American movies, while he plunders the fluid, rollicking style of Italian director Federico Fellini.

The enterprising Joe Morelli (Sergio Castellitto) drives into a Sicilian town in a truck festooned with loudspeakers and billboard pictures of Hollywood stars. For a small fee, he announces, the residents will have a shot at fame and riches. All they have to do is present their faces before Morelli's lens and recite the last two lines of "Gone With the Wind." Morelli promises to send these cinematic screen tests to influential producers and directors in Rome.

Naturally, Morelli's sideshow attracts everyone, including local beauties, wallflowers, cops, mafiosi, fascists and shepherds. Fame and money attract them like flies. Every one of them, as one female applicant puts it pithily, will do anything "just to get out of this [expletive] hole."

Inevitably, Morelli falls in love with one of the would-be starlets. A virginal, illiterate innocent named Beata (Tiziana Lodato) who was born in a convent, she stands resolutely by Morelli when his credentials—or lack thereof—come into official question. This is also about the time when the movie loses its momentum.

Nevertheless, there is much to savor for fans of this type of movie, particularly at the beginning: In a beautifully choreographed single-shot (featuring the very Felliniesque music of Ennio Morricone), a town full of Italian archetypes practices its "Gone With the Wind" lines. Even old mourners at a funeral trade Rhett Butlerisms. There's something about Tornatore's boyish adulation for the movies which touches a universal chord. In scenes like this one, the audience and these fictional Sicilians are one.

THE STAR MAKER (R) — Contains sex scenes, nudity, obscene gestures, violence and profanity — in short, everything. In Italian with subtitles.

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