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Bit of Fluff Floats on 'Mediterraneo'

February 25, 1993|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lancer who regularly writes about film for The Times Orange County Edition.

"Mediterraneo" is a confection, a pretty movie with little in its head. This Oscar winner may have a serious soul (it actually wants to be an anti-war picture, almost a throwback to the protesting '60s), but it has the face of a blissed-out clown.

Gabriele Salvatores' Italian movie, which launches Golden West College's monthlong foreign film series Friday night, won the Academy Award for best foreign language film last year, beating out at least one better entry, "Raise the Red Lantern." The academy, as usual, tilted toward sentimentality and glazed-over message-making instead of something more telling.

That doesn't mean "Mediterraneo" is a bad flick--it isn't, at least not by standards you can apply to most current movies. It does have dreamy, transporting imagery of Greece and a whimsical, although not always delicately rendered, story line.

Essentially, this is an escape picture--the trouble is, "Mediterraneo" aspires to importance; it yearns to be a pacifist anthem, but it's really too sunny, too trifling to be taken that seriously.

The plot follows eight Italian soldiers during World War II who find themselves on an Aegean island after their ship is sunk. With no radio to phone home, they have to make do.

Ah, but what a paradise they've fallen into. With all the able-bodied Greek men hauled off to work camps by the Germans and Italians, only elderly men, children and women remain. Put an accent on the women.

These soldiers, first wary and worried and clumsy, soon assimilate. They drink, they play, they read poetry, they fall in love. They all long for the war's ends but also rue it, knowing their vacation will also end. The cast, led by Diego Abatantuono as hawkish Sgt. Lo Russo and Claudio Bigagli as artistic Lt. Montini, put a goofy smile on their longing for a more romantic life.

Following "Mediterraneo," the series on March 5 offers director Coline Serreau's "Mama, There's a Man in Your Bed." The 1990 comedy, starring Daniel Auteuil and Firmine Richard, wonders if a French yogurt tycoon can find happiness with the woman who cleans his office.

On March 12, "Pelle the Conqueror" is scheduled. Bille August's 1988 drama won both the Palme d'Or at Cannes and the Oscar for best foreign language film and stars Max von Sydow and Pelle Hvenegaard. This partial adaptation of Martin Andersen Nexo's four-volume novel tells the story of a father and son trying to survive in Denmark after emigrating from Sweden.

The savagely funny "Tatie Danielle" screens March 19. The 1990 picture, directed by Etienne Chatiliez and featuring Tsilla Chelton and Catherine Jacob, centers on a nasty old aunt and the feisty young woman hired to care for her while her relatives are away.

The series ends March 26 with "Delicatessen," co-directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. Marie-Laure Dougnac and Dominique Pinon star in this 1991 farce about a desperate Parisian butcher who finds creative ways to survive a meat shortage.

What: Gabriele Salvatores' "Mediterraneo."

When: Friday, Feb. 26, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Golden West College's Forum II theater, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach.

Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (I-405) Freeway to Golden West Street and head south.

Wherewithal: $3 and $3.50.

Where to call: (714) 891-3991.

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