Much of the world has been turning out sparkling, or at least amusing comedies about displaced workers finding the pluck to succeed for years. You’d think the Italian creators of “Beate (Blessed)” could have made a funnier, sunnier film in their sleep.
Consider the set-up. A small lingerie sewing operation on the northeast coast is betrayed by a boss who wants to move their skilled labor to Serbia. The seamstresses team up with an endangered local convent, famed for its lace work, to try and save both institutions.
That’s a funny conceit. But three screenwriters and a director were barely able to get so much as a grin out of it in this sour, sad little “romp.” Shockingly, it never occurred to the producers that making a movie with female heroines and villains could have used a woman or two behind the camera to give it a feminine touch or point of view. That’s no guarantee of laughs, but stuff pops up on screen here that lacks logic, romance, aspiration or heart.
Tone deaf? Si, ragazzo mio!
Donatella Finocchiaro (“Youtopia”) is Armida, floor manager of a dozen or so seamstresses at Veronica, a high end “knickers” factory. They bust their butts to get every order filled, to turn designers’ prototype bras into finished goods.
But the “Veronica” in Veronica (Anna Bellato) is sneaking around, plotting to take their machines and their jobs across the Adriatic to Serbia. A protest at a fashion show won’t save them. Picketing the closed factory isn’t enough.
If only there was something they could cook up with the Convent where Armida’s aunt (Lucia Sardo) lives and works. The sisters, few in number in a vast property the city and the scheming bishop have their eyes on, are famous for their fine lacework.
Heck, Armida is even named after the founder of their order, her 300 year old corpse preserved under glass in the chapel. But all Auntie can say is “Serves you right” to her “trade unionist…communist” niece.
Armida’s had a tough life. Pushing 40, a single mom, she walks with a lifelong limp and has, it’s implied, self-esteem issues. It’s why she has a long-term friend-with-benefits thing with Loris (Paolo Pierobon) that is never going anywhere.
But the Daughters of the Holy Cloak lose their Mother Superior to injury in a fire, so young Sister Caterina (Maria Roveran) takes over with the job of running the place, and saving it. She proves more pliable.
The script gives the ladies cast here precious little that’s funny to say or do. The story has all these possibilities, of a “Gung Ho, “Made in Dagenham,” “Calendar Girls” or “Potiche,” to name similar feel-good wish-fulfillment fantasies that have come out of Hollywood, Britain or France. The screenwriters commit to basically no clear idea of where to go.
The direction by Samad Zarmandili, a veteran assistant director on Italian TV, is similarly lackluster, with glimpses of a cute coast side town (never identified) that he doesn’t exploit, and much of the potential fun to be had in a world of frilly women’s “knickers” simply squandered.
Even the nuns making “sinner garments” for “the Devil’s money” idea is left hanging. Instead we fret over their underground underwear not selling because it doesn’t have a famous “label,” and women don’t buy such clothes in flea markets.
The one character given a little edge is the one — just guessing here — that the three credited writers and credited director identified with, the womanizing, smooth-talking Loris, making amusing sales pitches to women of a certain age, “fearless women…cougars without scruples” or young women who dig older men and earn the label “pussycats.”
Rare is the female-centric movie so blatantly smothered in the crib by “boys club” timidity behind the camera. It’s as if they didn’t have a clue what to do with women, and were afraid of burning the Catholic church with too many jokes as well.
Was Finocchiaro’s Armida meant to seem this sad, or was the actress just bummed because she knew the guys had screwed this up?
MPA Rating: unrated, adult situations
Cast: Donatella Finocchiaro, Paolo Pierobon, Lucia Sardo, Maria Roveran
Credits: Directed by Samad Zarmandili, script by Antonio Cecchi, Gianni Gatti and Salvatore Maira. A Corinth Films release.
Running time: 1:35