July 3, 1997
Starring Jean Reno, Mercedes Ruehl.
Written by Saul Turteltaub.
Directed by Paul Weiland. (STC) Opens July 4.
Summer has arrived with its usual sense of crushing predictability. Idiots are buying poisoned hot dogs on the street, kids are frying themselves to a crisp on the beaches and geezers are setting fire to each other in the old folks home, as the usual “you think this is hot? I’ll show you hot!” conversations get out of hand. And, as usual, a romantic comedy about those zany, exotic Mediterranean types has arrived in the theatres as a low-key antidote to the typical summer blockbusters.
In the past, Mediterranean comedies have generally been fairly good. La Belle Epoque, Il Postino, Barcelona and A Summer In La Goulette were all very funny, and even the vacuous Stealing Beauty gave audiences the chance to stare at Liv Tyler for an hour and a half. The latest entry in this genre is called For Roseanna, and it too has a few good moments.
An American production set in a small Italian village, it stars Jean Reno as a beleaguered restaurant owner who is desperately trying to save one of the last remaining cemetery plots in town for his wife (Mercedes Ruehl), who is slowly dying from heart disease. Reno is best known in North America for his role as a ruthless hit man in Luc Besson’s The Professional, and there is something funny about seeing him trying to stop people from smoking and drinking and committing suicide in his frantic attempt to keep the town’s mortality rate down.
But as a romantic comedy, the film comes up short. As if to offset the black humor of the cemetery situation, the filmmakers have made the love between the husband and the dying wife seem utterly sweet and perfect and lighthearted, and so of course it is not particularly funny. And the burgeoning love affair between the wife’s younger sister and a local lawyer is also too perfect for words.
The only impediment to their match is strictly external — the lawyer happens to be the nephew of the grouchy old man who is refusing to sell his land to the church so that more cemetery plots may be created. Since an overabundance of petty jealousies and disreputable longings is usually what makes these Mediterranean comedies tick, the shortage in this department is keenly felt. And while For Roseanna may be in the same genre as films like La Belle Epoque and Il Postino, it is not really in the same league. — T.L.