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MOVIE REVIEW

All sides of love triangle examined

October 03, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Matteo Garrone's "The Embalmer" is a seductive, suspenseful psychological drama set against the evocative vistas of a coastal resort outside Naples off-season.

A master of nuances, Garrone first introduces us to Peppino Profeta (Ernesto Mahieux, in a complex portrayal), a very short, middle-aged taxidermist of much skill and dedication, clearly a lonely man who pours his life into his work.

At a zoo, Peppino strikes up a conversation with an exceptionally tall young man, Valerio (Valerio Foglia Manzillo), whose height emphasizes by contrast Peppino's stature.

Peppino is amazed to discover that Valerio is actually interested in what he has to say about animals and about his profession. In short order, Valerio has become transformed from a waiter to Peppino's dedicated new assistant, a quick learner. Both men are delighted with their working situation, and they become friends as well.

Peppino lives in style, in a small but sleekly elegant apartment, and after a spell of hard work he decides it's time for a little rest and recreation for him and his new assistant. He tells Valerio two prostitutes are on their way from Rome to entertain them, but when the men have sex with the women in Peppino's king-size bed it becomes clear that what the homely Peppino really craves is to be making love with Valerio, who is both handsome and naive. Peppino has fallen hard for Valerio but understandably feels unable to declare his love while becoming ever more possessive of the younger man.

While on a business trip with Peppino, Valerio encounters Deborah (Elisabetta Rocchetti), a beautiful drifter who inevitably will become the catalyst in a muted yet ever intensifying triangle. From start to finish Garrone charges "The Embalmer," a richly visual film, with an effective ambiguity and sense of foreboding. It also unfolds with a dark irony underlined on the one hand by Peppino's lucrative underworld activities and on the other by the ultimate vacuousness of Deborah and the drab existence she offers Valerio once the lust wears off. Ultimately, "The Embalmer" emerges as a deft portrait of Valerio as an innocent entrapped beyond his imagining.

*

'The Embalmer'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Adult themes and situations, unsuitable for young audiences

Ernesto Mahieux...Peppino Profeta

Valerio Foglia Manzillo...Valerio

Elisabetta Rocchetti...Deborah

Lina Bernardi...Deborah's mother

Pietro Biondi...Deborah's father

A First Run Features release of a Fandango presentation. Director Matteo Garrone. Producer Domenico Procacci. Screenplay by Ugo Chiti, Garrone and Massimo Gaudioso. Cinematographer Marco Onorato. Editor Marco Spoletini. Music Banda Osiris. Costumes Francesca Leondeff. Art director Paolo Bonfini. In Italian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

Exclusively at the Regent Showcase, 614 N. La Brea Ave., (323) 934-2944.

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