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‘The Star Maker’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 08, 1996

Sicily's star-struck citizens are easy marks for "The Star Maker," a rogue pretending to be a talent scout for a group of prestigious Italian directors. Like such American counterparts as "The Music Man" and "The Rain Maker," con man Joe Morelli (Sergio Castellitto) gradually falls under the spell of the rubes he has been scamming.

Director Giuseppe Tornatore of "Cinema Paradiso" is on familiar turf with this nostalgic tale of film's effect on the simple Sicilians, but Tornatore has already mined this parched terrain of its dramatic gold. Though "The Star Maker" has scattered charms and a sunny island backdrop, its structure is shaky and its content condescending and repetitious.

Screenwriter Fabio Rinaudo, with help from his old friend Tornatore, eschews traditional Hollywood storytelling techniques in favor of what he calls a "nonscript." The result perfectly illustrates why American movies out-perform homemade products in the European marketplace. The picture is about pleasing the filmmakers instead of engaging the audience.

Set in the '50s, the film is born of the Italian neo-realists' preoccupation with authentic faces as well as Catholics' faith in the absolution of confession. Morelli, who claims to be in search of "new faces for the cinema," travels in a battered truck loaded with stolen equipment and plastered with worn movie posters. After setting up his camera in the town square, he persuades the bumpkins to pay for an audition, which allegedly will be viewed by directors in Rome.

People from all walks of life are seduced by his promises of stardom—only 1,500 lire buys the dream. Though asked to perform speeches from "Gone With the Wind," the stars of tomorrow are soon spilling their sorrows and secrets into the camera's lens. Many towns and auditions later, Morelli realizes that he's come to love the island and its people. If he had it to do all over again, he'd thread his camera with usable film. One by one, fragments of every audition come back to haunt him.

Tornatore, a native of Sicily, has set out to capture the spirit of the place and the people, but his own romanticism prevents him from exposing the grief barely hidden by a veil.

The Star Maker, in Italian with subtitles, is rated R for sex and nudity.

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