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.
And he's surrounded by scene-stealers like Buy (as the company's grand dame), plus more thoughtful actors like Bosca (as a ghostly writer who quietly falls for Pietro). But it's the way Ozpetek so cleverly shifts between the comedy, drama and tragedy that makes the film worth a look. This is a sharply well-made film that's stronger because it doesn't rely on digital gimmickry: these ghosts are sympathetic people with real issues. It's also a rare movie that doesn't feel the need to tie up the plot in a tidy bow. Yes, it comes to a strikingly moving conclusion, but it leaves enough space that we carry on thinking about these people and where they're going next.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Friday 16th March 2012
Production compaines: Rai Cinema
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 8 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Ferzan Ozpetek
Producer: Domenico Procacci
Screenwriter: Ferzan Ozpetek, Federica Pontremoli
Starring: Elio Germano as Pietro, Beppe Fiorello as Filippo Vemi, Margherita Buy as Lea Mami, Alessandro Roja as Paolo, Platinette as Badessa, Vittoria Puccini as Beatrice Mami, Anna Proclemer as Livia Morosini, Paola Minaccioni as Maria, Massimiliano Gallo as Dottor Cuccurullo, Bianca Nappi as Mina, Gianluca Gori as Ennio