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'Dr. Smith and the Fantastic Castle' tackles serious subject in a light-hearted manner

Published: Thursday, July 30 2015 10:29 a.m. MDT

The publicity poster for the Italian movie "Dr. Smith and the Fantastic Castle," written, produced and starring LDS filmmaker Marco Lui. It was screened Jan. 25 at the 2013 LDS Film Festival. (Provided by Marco Lui) The publicity poster for the Italian movie "Dr. Smith and the Fantastic Castle," written, produced and starring LDS filmmaker Marco Lui. It was screened Jan. 25 at the 2013 LDS Film Festival. (Provided by Marco Lui)

"DR. SMITH AND THE FANTASTIC CASTLE;" written and produced by Marco Lui; starring Lui, Virginia Ruspini and Laura Loritz; screened Jan. 25 at the 2013 LDS Film Festival, SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 S. State, Orem; 70 minutes

OREM — Going in, it appears that Marco Lui's "Dr. Smith and the Fantastic Castle" is going to be a movie simply about a troubled teen and her recovery, thanks to a gifted doctor and some innovative therapy.

It turns out the movie has complexity and depth, and is about introspection, grief and dealing with reality and choices.

It's surprisingly entertaining given that there are only three actors — Lui, 14-year-old Virginia Ruspini and Laura Loritz — and a simple but clever story.

The movie — written, produced, edited and starring Lui — is also exquisitely shot and well-edited. (Static-laden episodes where Lui makes notes on the case are purposefully broken up, for example.)

There are sequences that delight, particularly where the irrepressible Lui is free to make faces and when he and Ruspini spar with words and imaginary pistols.

Filmed entirely in Prunetto, Italy, in an ancient castle, the scenes are charming and have a magical element even with the English dubbing slightly disturbing the flow.

Lui has created a character — the teenager Ruspini — who is believable and likable even while she disdains Lui's character and his attempts to connect with her.

As she's slowly drawn in, it becomes apparent she is suffering and in pain.

As she plays word games and ideas with Lui, it's easy to want her to become happy.

Lui has included lovely interludes with Loritz, who plays his wife, that become meaningful as the story progresses.

Overall, it's a rewarding kind of experience and the main characters and the basic premise change before your eyes.

This is Lui's second year to have an entry in the LDS Film Festival. His first movie, "The Book of Life," was greeted with enthusiasm in 2012.

Lui is a returned missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served in Sicily from 1997-1999.

He lives and works in Italy. He spent $650 of personal savings to make the movie, shot in a month's time.

"This is a very exciting thing for us because the movie came out just a couple of months ago in Italy," said Ugo Perego, the American representative of the film. (Perego was Lui's teacher in the Missionary Training Center.)

"The movie wasn't even here in the United States two weeks ago, so we had to have a DVD shipped that we could work on. ... We didn't sleep for about a week and a half to get everything ready and be a product that was good enough to be shown at the LDS Film Festival," Perego said.

He describes Lui as "absolutely rare. ... For one thing, when he was ready to go on a mission, he was already known in show business. He received a very lucrative contract and he turned it down to go on a mission and that's very hard.

"He made the right choice. He's never regretted it," Perego continued. "He came home and he had all the opportunities available to him. He's a very creative and talented individual. People really like working with him, but he's not shy about his beliefs."

The film, Perego said, was not made just for Mormons.

"You don't have to be a Latter-day Saint to welcome, accept and enjoy the movie. Everyone that has good feelings for good movies for life, for friendship, for love, for a supreme being — they would embrace the movie."

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com. Email: haddoc@desnews.com

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