Every generation has an emblematic screen actor who helps define its era. In Italy, Marcello Mastroianni ruled from the early 1960s until he was supplanted by Giancarlo Giannini in the '70s. The closest Italian cinema has to a Mastroianni or Giannini today is probably Sergio Castellitto. The Wedding Director, Castellitto's latest collaboration with veteran director Marco Bellocchio (they previously teamed for 2002's Catholic-Marxist memento mori My Mother's Smile), offers incontrovertible proof that Castellitto is Italy's reigning go-to guy for capturing his country's national character and its current spiritual malaise.
Franco Elica, Castellitto's middle-aged filmmaker in The Wedding Director, could almost be kin to Mastroianni's exasperated movie director Guido in Fellini's 8 1/2. While prepping his latest project - an adaptation of Alessandro Manzoni's drowsy 19th-century novel The Betrothed - Franco makes the acquaintance of Sicilian wedding videographer Enzo (Brun Cariello), who claims to be a big fan of the celebrated auteur. One thing leads to another, and Franco eventually finds himself invited by the penniless Prince of Gravina (Sami Frey) to film his daughter's marriage to a wealthy lawyer. Naturally, bride-to-be Bona (Donatella Finocchiaro) is the fledgling actress Franco tried to meet earlier about a role in his new film. And because The Wedding Director is (sort of) a farce - Bellocchio isn't exactly known for screwball comedy - Franco falls head over heels for Bona and does everything within his power to squelch the nuptials.
Is Franco, like Guido in 8 1/2, dreaming all this? Does Bona only exist in Franco's feverish imagination? Bellocchio never says, but a frequently repeated phrase ("In Italy, the dead command") might provide a clue. Since Bellocchio has always been a director who prefers arty opacity to narrative clarity, I just went with the flow. The consistently superb Castellitto's wryly amusing performance provides all the explanation anyone needs.