Obiviously inspired by Buster Keaton's "Sherlock Jr." and Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo," Italian filmmaker Maurizio Nichetti's "The Icicle Thief" has the worlds of reel and real life colliding in a very funny spoof on modern entertaiment.
As the title implies, the heart of all this is a parody of Vittorio De Sica's Italian classic "The Bicycle Thief." But there are also gags about television, commercials, the modern Italian family, show-biz stereotypes and the intermingling of fantasy and reality.
Nichetti stars in two roles, playing both himself, a harried director whose poignant movie, "The Icicle Thief," is about to be butchered with commercial interruptions in its first television showing, and Antonio, the key character in the movie-within-the-movie, an embittered working-class Joe who can't get a job in his small Italian town following World War II.
With his family subsisting on a diet of boiled cabbage, Antonio's wife aspires to be a singer in a local cabaret, his son takes odd jobs and his ignored little baby - who may remind "Simpsons" fans of little Maggie - gets into all kinds of dangerous situations from which she barely escapes.
But every 12 minutes or so, just as the quiet, black-and-white, neo-realistic film is at a moment of high pretentiousness, a brightly colored, loudly musical commercial butts in, sometimes cutting right into dialogue.
Then, when a power outage occurs, somehow the movie and the commercials begin to overlap, with characters from each finding themselves in the other. At one point, a British commercial actress in skimpy bathing suit - and in full color - finds herself drowning in the movie's black-and-white river. Antonio rescues her, pulls her up on shore and dries her off, unaware that he is also erasing her color so that she fits in with the black-and-white texture of the film.
Meanwhile, the director, watching all of this, becomes incensed and decides the only way he can straighten things out is by getting inside his own movie. Once there, he finds Antonio's wife has left the film to perform in commercials, leaving poor Antonio to be charged with murdering her. And it isn't long before the director himself is charged with murder.
There are also scenes of a "typical" Italian family whose television is tuned to the channel showing the movie, but the family members ignore the film and watch only the commercials - when they are watching at all.
Nichetti has much to say about the art of film, the shallowness of television and the way in which viewers watch - or don't watch - movies.
And it's all done with great humor, Nichetti's comic talent coming through loud and clear, whether or not you understand Italian.
"The Icicle Thief" is not rated but would probably be in PG or PG-13 territory for some nudity in an Italian commercial and one character who spends the entire film in a skimpy bathing suit.