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Movie Review

Refreshing 'Pizzicata' Takes Idyllic Look at Wartime Italy

April 30, 1999|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Edoardo Winspeare's "Pizzicata" is a lovely, low-key film that takes us into the timeless world of the Salentino peninsula, a beautiful though impoverished region in the heel of Italy.

Winspeare sets his story in the summer of 1943, when an American fighter plane is shot down. The sole survivor by chance happens to be an Italian American, whose parachute lands him in a tree, where he is discovered unconscious and wounded, though not too seriously, by the Pantaleos, a peasant family who grows olive trees.

Unhesitatingly, Carmine (Cosimo Cinieri, the film's sole professional actor), a middle-aged widower with three daughters and a son off fighting in Greece, offers the soldier shelter. As soon as Tony Marciano (Fabio Frascaro) regains consciousness he starts becoming a part of the family. Not only does he speak Italian but also was born not too far away; hard times forced his family to emigrate to America 15 years earlier.

Since he closely resembles the son of Carmine's cousin, who lives in Lecce, the capital city of the region, it is easy for Tony to pass himself off as that relative, explaining that he is on leave, having been wounded in Africa and here to help Carmine work his land.

Life goes on smoothly, and Winspeare, a native of the region descended from English Catholics who in 1700 fled persecution in their homeland, celebrates the Pantaleos' ancient rustic way of life, one that's close to God and nature. This idyll is endangered as attraction starts developing between the handsome Tony and the pretty Cosima (Chiara Torelli), who is pursued by the good-looking and rich Pasquale (Paolo Massafra).

The unraveling of the lovers' fate, which evolves with a refreshing lack of melodrama, unfolds through the region's folk dance, the pizzica, which takes three forms: the pizzica de core, an elegant and sensual courting dance; the danza della scherma, a duel-like sword or knife dance performed by men; and the frenzied pizzica tarantata, a therapeutic dance of exorcism performed by women who find themselves in the grip of grief or sexual repression.

The way in which Winspeare incorporates the various forms of the pizzica seems not in the least contrived or artificial. As a result "Pizzicata" emerges as a most effective work of folklore, easy and graceful. This film may have been a labor of love--three years in the making--on the part of Winspeare, in his feature debut, and his colleagues, but there is nothing labored about "Pizzicata," a film that casts a spell as potent as its seductive music and dancing.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: adult themes and situations.

'Pizzicata'

Cosimo Cinieri: Carmine Pantaleo

Fabio Frascaro: Tony Marciano

Chiara Torelli: Cosima Pantaleo

A Milestone Films presentation of a co-production of Edoardo Winspeare, Classic SRL, Hortes Film, Les Films du Paradoxe. Writer-director Edoardo Winspeare. Producers Winspeare, Dieter Horres and Fratelli Guercia Sammarco. Cinematographer Paolo Carnera. Editor Carlotta Cristiani. Costumes Silvia Nebiolo. Set designer Sonia Peng. In the Salentino dialect of Italian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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