Friday August 21, 1998
If Pupi Avati's "The Best Man" had as much vitality as it has charm, humor and perception, it could have been an unalloyed delight. It has so much going for it--an attractive cast, an amusing story, gorgeous period locales, a sweepingly romantic Riz Ortolani score--it's hard to understand why Avati allowed it to become so listless. As a result, it's a decidedly minor film.
As untold millions of women before her--and since--the ravishingly beautiful Francesca (Ines Sastre) is all set to marry a man (Dario Cantarelli) she does not love for financial security. If she does not go through with the ceremony, to take place on the last day of the 19th century, it will mean, just for starters, that her parents will lose their magnificent palazzo in the storybook northern Italian town of Sasso. Francesca balks and balks again. Then, while reciting her marriage vows, her gaze falls on a handsome stranger (Diego Abatantuono). It's love at first sight.
Refreshingly, Avati does not have Abatantuono's swarthy, bearded Angelo fall instantly in love with Francesca in return, and when Cantarelli's bald, sharp-featured Edgardo realizes that his bride has instantly fallen in love with another man, Avati comes up with a clever master stroke for the bridegroom to deal with it. Avati is also an amused observer of the behavior of the wedding's many guests, who are soon to be scandalized by Francesca's refusal to play the demure bride.
There's a lovely scene in which a man announces what every guest has brought as a wedding gift, and there's a funny sequence involving a ritualistic preparation of the nuptial chamber, which culminates with a maid, grilled on her chastity by the bride's aunt, exclaiming in exasperation, "I don't need a note from my doctor to make a bed!"
"The Best Man" is a movie of many exquisitely staged, amusing moments, but there's just not much substance to string them together. There's not much that's distinctive about Francesca outside her willfulness or looks that would serve to captivate us, and Angelo, who has just returned after 16 years in America, where his brothers have made a fortune, is a bit stolid.
In any event, when Avati is not making his astute social observations, his energy decidedly flags. He does, however, get across his larger point that the turning of the century points to a time when, hopefully, a woman no longer, in Avati's words, "confuses love with respect, resignation, duty and routine."
The Best Man, 1998. PG, for thematic elements. An October Films release of a Fimauro-Duea Film production. Writer-director Pupi Avati. Producers Aurelio De Laurentiis, Antonio Avati. Cinematographer Pasquale Rachini. Editor Amedeo Salfa. Costumes Vittoria Guaita. Music Riz Ortolani. Production designers Alberto Cottignoli, Steno Tonelli. In Italian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Ines Sastre as Francesca Babini. Diego Abatantuono as Angelo Beliossi. Dario Cantarelli as Edgardo Osti.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times