Copping a feel from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Don’t Tell begins with Sabina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) voice-dubbing lines for some import about a woman jogger who gets raped by a sleazeball. In the Almodóvar film, a hilarious dubbing scene neatly triggers the story’s satire about feminist consciousness—here, it’s used to unlock a few repressed memories and kick-start a turgid melodrama. Soon after she leaves the recording studio, Sabrina begins to remember her past as a doll-house nightmare, all weird angles and distorted objects, with strange sounds impacting the dread of a man approaching the fourth wall, exposing the black hole of his pajama’s crotch area as he moves. Comencini treats her lead character’s panic-stricken consciousness like a pack mule, overloading it with clichés—a hack patchwork that has more Freud and Jung in it than real life. You may ask, what lies beneath? The answer: zilch.
Equally histrionic is how Sabrina’s memories come to ruin her relationship to her hunky boyfriend, Franco (Alessio Boni), who wakes up one morning only to discover his girlfriend is suddenly a crazy person. Before flying to visit her brother, Daniele (Luigi Lo Cascio), in Virginia that serves as a twin capital to their family’s repressed memories—the city’s columns are modeled after Ancient Greek and Roman buildings—she predicts that Franco will sleep with another woman while she’s away. Franco, an actor, does just that—with an actress whose big breasts he has to knead on the set of a television program. You can almost see the gears turning inside poor Boni’s head before he does the deed. “If I do this, does it make me a ‘typical male’?” “Does it mean Sabrina has female intuition?” Inside my own head I was wondering why Boni accepted a role in such a stupid movie.
Sloppily woven into the main plot of Sabrina’s child abuse saga is the tale of her childhood friend, Emilia (Stefania Rocca), a blind lesbian who falls in love with one of Sabrina’s other friends, Maria (Angela Finocchiaro), an older woman recently jilted by her husband. Between these two threads and the story of Franco’s “test” it appears that Comencini is attempting to put on some kind of show about modern gender and sexuality issues. But that’s all it is: a show, and a fatuous one at that—not least of which because of its sketchy details (why does Emilia never leave her house?). The director worries so much about how to shoot her corny little confrontations (see the literal fireworks display that foregrounds the figurative explosion of emotions between Sabrina and Daniele in New England, or the spinning camera above a pregnant Sabrina’s head before her water breaks back in Italy) that she doesn’t allow for a discernable point to coalesce.