Netflix? Seeking “A Breath of Fresh Air” in the rural “redneck” South of Italy

Today’s trip “Around the World with Netflix” is a nostalgic and cute Italian comedy the tells us “You can go home again.” Or as the Neopolitans put it, “The happy bird makes its next in its own valley.”

“A Breath of Fresh Air” is a star vehicle co-written by Italian comic Aldo Baglio, known for such seasonal farces as “I Hate Summer” and “The Santa Claus Gang.” In this comedy, titled “Una boccata d’aria” in Italia, he plays a frazzled Milan pizzeria owner about to lose his restaurant and his mind over the obligations piling up around him.

Salvo’s supporting a grad student daughter (Ludavica Martino) in Amsterdam who hasn’t told him that she’s quit her MBA program, or that she’s pregnant by her musician boyfriend.

His dead-weight son Enzo (Davide Calgaro) goofs around in the kitchen, distracted by his dreams of music producer/DJ stardom.

And his wife (Lucia Ocone) is cold comfort in all this, perhaps because she’s in the dark about how bad things really are.

A scooter accident lets Salvo see a vision of his ever-disapproving dad (Tony Sperandeo). He’s he one who gives him the “bird/nest/valley” aphorism. He’s the one who always called Salvo “useless.” And that vision tells Salvo that he’s died.

The fact that there’s in inheritance sends Salvo winging southward, to Southern Italy where his Sicilian dad ran a farm overrun with snails. He must make up with his sullen, estranged brother Lillo (Giovanni Calcagno), convince him to sell the place, and hope he can recover his repossessed pizzeria.

Here’s what Salvo never told his wife and kids. That his dad was still living, that he has a brother. His long-long crush Carmela (Manuela Ventura) is back in this sleepy little village. Oh, and by the way, Salvatore had his own pop stardom dreams. He wrote and recorded a corny Neapolitan single in honor of “Carme” in his long-haired youth.

The only way ALL of this can come out is for the whole family to eventually follow him south to find out the truth and take this comedy to its logical conclusion.

I think the first movie to teach me about Italian regionalist prejudice was Lina Wertmüller’s charming “Ciao, Professore!” Hearing and reading subtitles about northern Italian attitudes towards those “rednecks” in the south, from Naples on over to Sicily, was an eye opener.

Here, Salvo lets us know that these “bumpkins” and “rednecks” (in Italian with English subtitles) were a big reason he left. But when he returns, he’s mobbed by old friends who help him close down the bar with wine-soaked sing-alongs.

Sure, it’s the sort of small town where the longtime mayor finally died, only to have his son take over the job. Old grudges, like old flames, never die.

And the snail situation at the family farm is so severe that I wondered if they weren’t raising them for restaurants. Considering the seething resentment Lillo harbors over this solitary life of labor, frustration and misery convinces one otherwise.

“Fresh Air” isn’t a challenging comedy. But it does manage to upend expectations, here and there. And Baglio, who cowrote the script with director Alessio Lauria and others, mugs and fumes and lies and gestures wildly enough to keep it amusing, or at least help it merrily make its way toward the finish line.

Knowing when to end a film, drop the mike, is an art, and these folks have given us all we need to know about whatever “happily ever after” is coming. They don’t show it because there’s no need. We jus tknow.

Maybe it’s the sunny, sleepy, overgrown and gone to seed scenery talking, but while this “Breath” isn’t all that, it’s not that bad.

Rating: TV-14

Cast: Aldo Baglio, Lucia Ocone, Giovanni Calcagno, Manuela Ventura, Ludavica Martino and Davide Calgaro

Credits: Directed by Alessio Lauria, scripted by Aldo Baglio, Valerio Bareletti, Morgan Bertacca and Alessio Lauria. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:36


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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