This offbeat ghost story draws us in with its sharp-edged comedy then gets under our skin by quietly shifting the lively humour into much darker emotion. Italian-Turkish filmmaker Ozpetek has mixed present-day Rome with World War II before (see the Hitchcockian drama Facing Windows), so this more comical approach sometimes feels uneven. But it's still hugely engaging.
At the centre is Pietro (Germano), an aspiring actor in his late 20s who's tired of living with his cousin Maria (Minaccioni). He can't believe his luck when he rents a grand apartment in a desirable neighbourhood. Although he quickly learns why it was such a good deal: there are eight ghosts living with him. After his initial terror subsides, he begins to get to know them, discovering that they are a 1943 acting troupe. Maybe they can help him get his career going, as well as his stale romantic life. And if he can work out why they're trapped in this flat, maybe he can help them move on.
This set-up allows Ozpetek to indulge in some hilarious slapstick, as the ghosts all have diva tendencies, while also delving into some much deeper drama due to Italy's troubling wartime past. Along the way, the film also makes pointed comments on the country's political and arts scenes, both past and present. But the focus is always on the characters themselves, and they're beautifully played. Germano is such a likeable guy that we can't help but fall for him and wonder why he has so much trouble finding someone to love.
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Young Accio (Vittorio Emanuele Propizio) yearns for the priesthood, but not as much as his young body yearns for the bodies of Italian movie actresses, whom he discovers through small photos. When he can't get a straight cure from the clerics, Accio goes secular and takes up a kindred cause: fascism. His older brother Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio) is celebrated by their parents for causing a riot at work under the banner of communism and unionization, but a teenaged Accio, played by the talented Elio Germano, takes chastisement at every turn for his loyalty to the ways of Mussolini.
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