Film review: Star Maker, The

Production set in Sicily has bittersweet, humorous tone that later turns sour.

Published: Tuesday, May 7 1996 12:00 a.m. MDT

Though it was nominated for an Oscar as best-foreign language film and comes from the talented Giuseppe Tornatore, who gave us the fabulous "Cinema Paradiso" a few years ago, "The Star Maker" is a sadly disappointing character study.

Set in the early 1950s, the film follows Joe Morelli (Sergio Castellitto), a casting agent for a Rome movie company, as he travels through a series of villages in Sicily, filming auditions with the townfolk (for a fee, of course) and implying promises of stardom on the silver screen.

His arrival in these villages, with Joe playing carnival barker to announce what he's doing, becomes an event, as if the circus has come to town. He unloads his truck, sets up a tent, and everyone gathers to watch as young and old sit down, showing their profiles and then reading a few lines from "Gone With the Wind."

But since they are generally illiterate people, the dialogue is usually replaced with personal stories, some of them genuinely affecting.

Joe travels from town to town failing to connect with anyone, which is the way he wants it — until a tortured orphan girl (Tiziana Lodato) latches onto him. And ultimately, he finds himself caring for someone else.

In the film's early stages, as Joe lures people before his camera, the film has a bittersweet and often very humorous tone that seems to bode something wonderful is coming.

But as the film progresses and becomes more serious, and as Joe encounters people who have been unable to rebuild their lives after the war, including run-ins with a the police and even rebel fighters, there is a sour tone that envelops the story.

Tornatore's problem is that while he exhibits genuine affection for the people of his native Sicily, he never provides them with any dimension to make them feel real. They are all types, and while this provides some laughs in the early scenes, it's not enough to make the audience accept them in the more serious situations.

Unfortunately, Tornatore only skims the surface, using an episodic style that doesn't help his cause. And there is the constant feeling that the players — especially Castellitto and Lodato — are better than the material.

"The Star Maker" is rated R for (violence, graphic sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity.