Lost Kisses (I baci mai dati) is a charming little Italian film with an interesting mix of pro and anti-religious ideas. It comes from writer/director Roberta Torre. At times due to the flowing cinematography and the focus on a deprived area outside of Sicily, it reminds of a Federico Fellini film. It follows a thirteen year old girl, Manuela, who is getting lost in the shuffle. Her home life is tense, her mother and father are edgy, the father’s unemployment mostly responsible. Manuela’s older sister steals from her mother’s purse, and is a bit loose with her morals.
In the piazza Manuela’s apartment overlooks, a statue of the Madonna is erected, something the highly religious community is grateful for, and in awe of. Careless boys accidentally knock the head off the Madonna in the middle of the night, and they hide pieces in a storage shed nearby. Manuela claims the Madonna came to her in a dream, and told her where she could find the missing pieces of the statue. It’s unclear whether Manuela is a saint, or just a bored girl making up stories. It doesn’t matter to her desperate family and neighbors, who come to her seeking miracles. Manuela’s mother finds there’s big money in miracle workers, and she starts milking for all she can.
The script is well written, and pleasantly understated. The majority of the drama and comedy that unfolds falls to the responsibility of the actors, and not the words they speak. Fortunately for Torre, she has grouped an excellent cast. Manuela is played by Carla Marchese, and she handles the brunt of the plot. She’s a bit wooden at times, but alternatively, she manages to carry whole scenes on her own. The whole performance comes off as realistic. Donatella Finocchiaro’s performance as Manuela’s slutty, conniving, and ultimately atoning mother is super charged. It’s difficult to seperate the actress from her performance. And that’s a compliment.
Torre’s direction is mostly inspired though she lets the story drag at some points. This is easily illustrated in highly stylized scenes, scenes that seem half truth, and half fiction, that can’t help but bring to mind Fellini’s 8 1/2. It’s a difficult attempt and its audacity will have many critics. I, for one, thought these sequences added to the film, Torre’s just need a bit more of a budget to pull of the atmospheric dynamic. Torre takes pleasure in swaying her audience in favor of Manuela’ s sainthood, and then immediately making a case against it. There are some subtle jabs at the Catholic church, or maybe more for the fallibility of its clergy and congregation. For someone not invested in the religion, it seemed more good-natured than mean-spirited. Although I’m sure there are more than a few devout Catholics willing to argue. For all its uneven aspects, Lost Kisses was greatly enjoyable, and a deserving member of the Sundance World Dramatic Competition.
Overall, Lost Kisses is a pretty enjoyable film with a well written script and solid performances.