The Star Man

on March 08, 1996 by Kim Williamson
   "Realzisa, your lucky day is here," trumpets Joe Morelli ("Il Grande Cocomero's" Sergio Castellitto) as his truck rummages through the tiny Sicilian village. His promise: As a talent scout for Universalia Studios of Rome, he can bring the residents the "career of a lifetime." All they have to do, says Joe, is to sit before his Ascania camera and speak a few lines from "Gone With the Wind" and pay him 1,500 lire. The time is 1953; the physical and economic ravages of the Second World War still burden the island. Though poor, many of the villagers are so desperate to leave for a better life on the continent and so in love with the silver screen that they flock to Joe's tent. In Realzisa as everywhere, the story is the same: The untalented lot are unable to deliver even the slightest dialogue; instead, they tell the stories of their lives, loves and tribulations, and when the last applicant is done Joe decamps for the next village.
   Forty-five minutes into "The Star Man" ("L'uomo delle stelle," which Miramax is marketing as "The Star Maker"), we've seen countless rustics open their souls for a brief and occasionally lyrical moment and disappear, but not even Joe usually framed no closer than a medium shot and muttering to himself has become a character. His why and even who remain underexplored, as does his eventual growly infatuation with a local virgin beauty, Beata (newcomer Tiziana Lodato), who's being schooled at a nunnery and toils as a housecleaner. Unhappy with her life, she latches onto Joe, in whom she sees the promise of the world that awaits her elsewhere, and when she's onscreen partly due to her character's guileless angst, partly due to Lodato's natural smolder "The Star Man" catches fire. Like Joe, though, the movie leaves her behind again and again, as it moves on in search of something but finds nothing, save for era-appropriate musical musings by Ennio Morricone and lensing by Dante Spinotti, whose decision to use ENR processing weights all colors toward an aptly earthy brown.
   But the film's soil is inert. Scripters Fabio Rinaudo and Guiseppe Tornatore the Sicilian-born director who here helms to less success than with his Oscar-winning "Cinema Paradiso" ruin what could have been a rescuing romance. And both Joe and Tornatore fail to realize a wonderful vox humana: That in his cans the fake filmmaker has the footage that could make for a moving documentary on human longing. But for Tornatore, as for his Joe and Beata, there is no redemption.    Starring Sergio Castellitto and Tiziana Lodato. Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. Written by Guiseppe Tornatore and Fabio Rinaudo. Produced by Vittorio Cecchi Gori and Rita Cecchi Gori. A Miramax release. Drama. Rated R for some strong sexuality, language and a brutal beating. Running time: 108 min.
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