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Dreams and discovery

A woman afflicted by nightmares that point to her past is at the center of the persuasive 'Don't Tell,' which skillfully develops characters and story lines.

March 17, 2006|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

The secrets that sometimes lurk deep within even the happiest of lives are the subject of Cristina Comencini's intimate drama "Don't Tell." The Italian filmmaker adapted her novel "La bestia nel cuore," which in turn was inspired by a newspaper article about an adult brother and sister coming to terms with painful events in their childhoods.

The film stars Giovanna Mezzogiorno ("Facing Windows," "The Last Kiss") as Sabina, a voice-over actor in Rome who lives with Franco (Alessio Boni), a handsome stage actor. The opening scene shows Sabina convincingly dubbing a rape scene for a television show, and though it seems to have little resonance at the time, it later triggers disconcerting nightmares.

Someone who looks out for others before herself, Sabina is close to her director, Maria (Angela Finocchiaro), a bitter middle-aged woman whose husband left her for their daughter's college chum. She also regularly visits her childhood friend, the depressed Emilia (Stefania Rocca), who lost her sight at 20 and nurses an unrequited passion for Sabina. To ease some of his and Sabina's financial burden, Franco reluctantly takes a higher-paying job playing a doctor on a television series.

Sabina is averse to discussing the nightmares with Franco or her friends and instead withdraws, trying to come to terms with their meaning. Sensing it has something to do with her past, she books a trip to the U.S. to visit her brother, Daniele (Luigi Lo Cascio), and his family for the holidays.

The trip creates parallel stories, but Comencini masterfully balances the concurrent situations. While Sabina and Daniele, a classics professor at the University of Virginia, reconnect and she tries to muster the courage to tell him about the dreams, Franco is pursued by an amorous extra (Francesca Inaudi) and becomes the sounding board for his director, Andrea (Giuseppe Battiston). Emilia and Maria begin a tentative friendship.

It's easy to go astray when leaving the primary plot to follow multiple subplots, but Comencini and her actors have created supporting characters who are as compelling as Sabina. Finocchiaro and Battiston are particularly good at providing character-driven levity. And in what might have been a melodramatic diva turn, Mezzogiorno is engaging and melancholy, striking the right tone when it is time to confront her emotions.

The film effectively addresses abuse from the perspective of the victims amid a well-developed reality of jobs and relationships.

A nominee for best foreign language film at the recent Academy Awards, "Don't Tell" is a persuasive if not groundbreaking drama.


`Don't Tell'

MPAA rating: R for sexual content, nudity, language and a brief violent image.

A Lionsgate release. Director Cristina Comencini. Producers Riccardo Tozzi, Giovanni Stabilini, Marco Chimenz. Screenplay by Francesca Marciano, Cristina Comencini, Giulia Calenda, based on Comencini's novel, "La bestia nel cuore." Director of photography Fabio Cianchetti. Editor Cecilia Zanuso. Costume designer Antonella Berardi. Music Franco Piersanti. Production designer Paola Comencini. In Italian with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours.

In selected theaters.

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