Marco Bellochio’s The Wedding Director is a pleasant enough trifle—just the thing for a dreamy summer afternoon. Set in a fantastically anachronistic Sicilian town (a world of cavernous palaces decked out like Renaissance art galleries, Medici-like royal families and private beaches), the film finds celebrated movie director Franco Elica (Sergio Castellitto) fleeing dull professional obligations in the city (another adaptation of Manzoni’s The Betrothed) for a brief seafront idyll. But no sooner than he’s effected his escape, he’s enlisted to film the wedding of a local Princess (Donatella Finocchiaro), and in the style of Visconti’s The Leopard, no less—a setup quickly complicated by the instant romantic attachment that develops between Elica and the bride and the ensuing threats to the filmmaker from the latter’s donnish father (Sami Frey).
“It’s the dead who command in Italy,” runs the film’s refrain, and so the Princess is forced into her arranged marriage to fulfill a deathbed promise to her mother. So, too, noted filmmaker Smamma (Gianni Cavina), hiding out in the same town, fakes his own death in order to secure a much coveted cinematic prize. But, like Hans Castorp in The Magic Mountain concluding during his moment of revelation, “for the sake of goodness and love, man shall let death have no sovereignty over his thoughts,” Elica rejects that very tradition that subverts worldly pleasure in favor of an undue deference toward mortality (a tradition that also includes Manzoni’s novel) setting out to rescue the Princess from her impending nuptials (pointedly referred to by her father as her “funeral”) and remove her from her beguiling, if ultimately stifling, surroundings.
Encompassing a reflection on the modern Italian film tradition from Visconti to Sandro Bolchi (and not ignoring Bellochio’s own semi-privileged place), as well as an interrogation of an artist’s relationship to subject, the film’s meta concerns are played with a skillful dexterity, set off with a lightness of touch that never overwhelms the work’s modest narrative framework. What emerges is a dreamlike escape, a leisurely fantasy that’s fully comfortable in its languors—Bellochio’s never in a hurry to cut—that, for all its intimations of danger, feels too far removed from any recognizable reality to threaten the viewer’s ease of mind. A celebration of life that doesn’t spend all its time dragging through the mire only to suddenly announce its rejection of the very muck that forms its principal content, Wedding Director is consistently pleasant from first to last. Setting aside the prevailing cynicism, there is, I think, no reason to view that with any suspicion.