Friday, July 11, 1997

Calendar; Entertainment Desk

O.C. MOVIE REVIEW ‘FOR ROSEANNA’ a Universal Tale of Amore


Its lead actors are about as Italian as steak and kidney pie-in Bearnaise sauce, with a side of slaw. But “For Roseanna” has its charms, which do not include that cloying title but do include a cast that makes what might have been a trifle into a whimsical, bittersweet romance.

And by romance, we don’t necessarily mean straining bustiers and perspiring peasants (although British actress Polly Walker is dutifully distracting.) Striving for an “Il Postino”-like rusticity and native charm, “For Roseanna” is about people and the character thereof. And its three stars-Walker, French demi-idol Jean Reno and American virtuoso Mercedes Ruehl-make those characters buyable if not totally believable; insane, but certainly endearing.

The film also does what any ethnicized soap opera is supposed to: make itself universal. That it happens to take place in an insular, less-than-postcard-perfect Italian village allows the kind of internecine sniping and enforced intimacy that occur in a small, tight communities, but it might as easily taken place in Lindenhurst as Tuscany.

Or in Travento, which is where the discombobulated Marcello (Reno) is busy keeping everyone alive. He’s very concerned about the local birth of twins (is everyone healthy?). He yells at hunters shooting too close to town. He cuts off customers in his restaurant when they order more wine (“You have a long drive home.”). He even does rounds at the local hospital, ensuring that the terminally ill remain plugged in.

His concern is somewhat egocentric: His beloved wife, Roseanna (Ruehl), terminally ill with a weakened heart, wants just one thing: to be buried beside their daughter in one of the parish’s few remaining plots. The wealthy lawyer Capestro (Luigi Diberti), for reasons all his own, has refused to sell any adjoining land to the church.

By keeping the rest of the village safe, Marcello hopes there’ll be a place for Roseanna, thus putting him in the unenviable position of having to pray for the quick death of the person he loves the most.

With unquestionably saintly and just as maddening generosity, Roseanna wants Marcello to remarry when she’s gone-and to marry her beautiful sister Cecilia (Walker). And, as if Marcello doesn’t have enough to worry about, into this mix of melancholy and anarchy, writer Saul Turteltaub insets a Mafia subplot.

Insanity, you say? Not really. The Marcell-Roseanna-Cecilia imbroglio would be tough sledding for 90 minutes, and something has to give. It does, via the squat, angry figure of Fredo Iaccoponi (Trevor Peacock), a kidnapper who, after a 20-year sentence, is expecting to be greeted by his banker Rossi 9Roberto Della Casa) and the millions of lira in ransom money with which Rossi was entrusted. The banker, however, has spent most of the money on his voluptuous, voracious mistress Francesca (Fay Ripley), and things are not going to go well.

There are many more twists to this bowl of pasta, which might easily have been an ungodly mess; Paul Weiland, who’s done a lot of British TV (including Rowan Atkinson” Mr. Bean), has directed just one previous feature, the eminently dismissible “City Slickers II.” But Reno is as watchable a character as there is on screen; Ruehl is a national treasure. With Walker they give fluff a spine and serve up sentiment.

*MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexuality and brief language. Times guidelines: a complex movie about adult choices, with the death of a loved one playing a central part.