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‘Volere Volare’ (NR)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 15, 1993

"Volere Volare" is a decidedly offbeat romantic comedy, an imaginative valentine from Italian director Maurizio Nichetti. His previous film, "The Icicle Thief," paid twisted homage to cinema, and so does "Volere Volare," albeit in a gentler manner. It bows to classic forms -- silent comedy and vintage cartoons -- using sound effects and sexual fantasy to create a world where few things are what they seem.

Nichetti himself plays Maurizio, an obsessive collector (and instigator) of sounds, which he uses for effects while dubbing vintage Disney cartoons with new Italian-language soundtracks. In the tradition of Buster Keaton, Harpo Marx and Jacques Tati, Nichetti is a deadpan comedian and hopeless romantic. He's certainly the opposite of his genial brother (Patrizio Roversi), who uses their sound studio to dub hilariously bad erotic films, with a van full of scantily clad models providing the oooohs and aahhhs. Sweetly innocent where his brother is lascivious, Maurizio seems more interested in two-dimensional creatures than in flesh-and-blood encounters.

Until he meets Martina (Angela Finocchiaro). She too is hopelessly romantic, despite her line of work: She's a hooker with heart and a quirky clientele much more interested in dramatically erotic fantasy than mere sexual fulfillment. (One client is a chef who likes to spill things on Martina, including a vat of melted chocolate; soon she's dressed in her sundae best.)

Like Maurizio, Martina is lonely, and it's inevitable that they will stumble into love. This proves difficult since neither wants to reveal careers that are so obviously odd (Martina calls herself a "social worker"). Things are further complicated when Maurizio discovers in mid-courtship that his hands are transforming from flesh to cartoon and, worse, seem to have a mind of their own. Luckily, Martina has a thing for men with nice hands, even when they're being naughty (the hands, that is).

Just as Maurizio seems to be getting somewhere, things go from bed to worse: He does the reverse of Kim Basinger in "Cool World," becoming a cartoon caricature of himself -- a naked one, at that. Will Martina still warm to Maurizio? If you know anything about Italian cinema and its tradition of comical whimsy, your guess is fairly safe. And it's to Nichetti's credit that the possibilities here are played for charming laughs rather than smarmy punch lines.

As Martina, Finocchiaro is delightful, constantly irritated by the mundane repetition of her clients' hilarious erotic fantasies, particularly those who demand effort beyond acting. She's a dreamer and an accommodator whose embrace of Maurizio seems both poetic and natural. And Nichetti's sense of slapstick and gentle self-mockery should serve as a primer for American comedians, not one of whom could be envisioned in this role.

The mix of animation and action is subdued and clearly in service to the story, not the technology. Nichetti's been down this road before, of course, as the writer of Bruno Bozetto's classic "Allegro Non Troppo," which also featured him as an animator whose creations come to life. Here, his metamorphosis is subtle -- there's really no difference between Maurizio's live and animated selves. That's the wonder of "Volere Volare," and the source of its consistent laughs and constant heart.

Volere Volare, in Italian with subtitles, includes some non-exploitative European-style nudity.

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