Once it gets past a pointless jumble of images, Monica Stambrini’s lurid “Gasoline” focuses on the torso of a leggy woman, her confident, sexy strut accentuated by spike heels. The camera follows her through an airport and to a gasoline station, a two-hour drive from Naples. The camera doesn’t reveal her face, that of a glamorous woman, perhaps 40, until she confronts her daughter standing behind the station’s coffee bar.
The mother (Mariella Valentini) loses her cool almost immediately. She has not seen her daughter Lenni (Regina Orioli) in the two years before she dropped out of her university and wound up working at the station, where she has become the lover of Stella (Maya Sansa), the station’s attendant and mechanic.
Tall, beautiful Lenni and dark, vibrant Stella are happy and independent. The mother wants to take her daughter with her and has 20 million lire in her handbag as a bribe.
When Lenni resists, her mother accosts her physically, and Stella rushes to Lenni’s rescue, punching out the mother, whose head strikes the edge of the coffee bar counter. She falls dead on the floor.
Stambrini sets up this predicament with energy and raw emotion, generating sympathy for the lovers, but runs into trouble when they hit the road, on the run with Tunisia as their purported destiny.
Two nasty guys and a girl have hassled Stella for gas when she tells them the station is closed; she gives in, but it’s easy to predict that they will turn up again, primed for an explosion of homophobic violence.
It takes quite a while for Stambrini to generate momentum as her film unfolds, and when it does it becomes clear she is overly indebted to “Thelma & Louise.” She sustains psychological and emotional validity in the relationship of the lovers, played selflessly by Sansa and Orioli, who also illuminates Lenni’s complicated feelings about her mother, but “Gas” is finally too derivative and sensational for its own sake to work. Early on it even becomes all too easy to predict exactly what will happen at the film’s big climactic moment.
MPAA rating: Unrated.
Times guidelines: Extreme violence, language, drugs, some sex.
Mariella Valentini...The Mother
A Strand Releasing presentation. Director Monica Stambrini. Producer Galliano Iuso for Digital Film. Screenplay Stambrini, Elena Stancanelli, AnneRitte Ciccone; based on the novel by Stancanelli. Cinematographer Fabio Cianchetti. Editor Paola Freddi. Music Massimo Zamboni. Costumes Antonella Cannarozzi. Art director Alessandro Rosa. In Italian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.
Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, Beverly Blvd. at Fairfax Ave., (323) 655-4010.