August: Osage County goes to Italy in A Small Southern Enterprise, the Italian Film Festival’s best treat.
A Small Southern Enterprise (Una piccolo impresa meridionale)Director: Rocco Papaleo
Cast: Rocco Papaleo, Riccardo Scamarcio, Barbora Bobulova
This formally accomplished, heartwarming Italian drama finds a former priest moving into a lighthouse in search of solace after losing his position in the priesthood, only to find his new home attracting the attention of others who have similarly stalled out in life.
Veteran Italian actor Rocco Papaleo writes and directs, and stars as Father Costantino. He’s joined at the lighthouse by his brother-in-law (Riccardo Scamarcio), whose wife has run out on him with an unknown lover, and a prostitute (Barbora Bobulova) who’s just saved enough money to buy herself a new life. More arrive, until the small home is brimming with eccentric characters, lively arguments, and uncovered secrets.
From the start, A Small Southern Enterprise moves in just the right ways. Papaleo and co-writer Walter Lupo handle exposition in the first act with first person narration from Father Costantino. Five of the six films showcased at the festival begin in this very Italian way, but Enterprise outdoes them all with brevity and clarity.
And as Papaleo’s film goes on, everything he has to say continues to be worth hearing. With the limits of the narrative nicely restricted to the little patch of land the lighthouse sits atop, we’re left to soak in the intelligent, funny dialogue that bounces along to a jazzy score. It’s relaxing and entertaining.
Fabio Zamarion (The Unknown Woman) shot the film and, other than one over-produced nighttime scene, utilizes minimal lighting to create a believable, naturalistic look. Also successful is the color grade, which emphasizes the rich, earthy tones of dirt, rock, and sea. The first act leaves a few establishing wide shots to be desired, but that’s remedied later in the film, when the eclectic group embarks on a collaborative, outdoor project and we see the entire setting in nice, wide shots for the first time.
Papaleo is solid in the lead role, but as he’s the straight character of the bunch, his film relies most on the supporting ensemble team of outcasts. Bobulova, who has popped up in some English language films lately, is wonderful as a call girl that genuinely enjoyed her job (but of course, is ready to move on). Her scenes with the brooding Scamarcio, who simmers here as a man without his wife or any hope of getting her back, are some of the film’s best. Giampiero Schiano is hilarious as a construction worker who goes by the name Jennifer and dreams of becoming a movie stunt man.
Like John Wells’ August: Osage County, Papaleo’s film is a modest, well-crafted treat as suitable for the stage as it is the screen. Contained in geography, yet freeing in its attentiveness to the human condition, A Small Southern Enterprise is a breath of air as fresh as can be found on the Italian coast.