By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: He writes love letters.
Due to a business trip Robert Traven (Jack Lemmon) finds himself returning to Italy after four decades. He hadn’t set foot on their soil since World War II. He is old, tired, and grouchy and looking like an extension of the character Lemmon played in Avanti! , which was also took place in Italy. When he arrives he meets Antonio (Marcello Mastroianni) who tells him he is the brother of Maria, a woman Robert had a relationship with during the war. Robert decides to go and meet her despite the fact that she is now married. When he gets there he finds that everyone acts as if they already know him. Robert then finds out that Antonio has been writing ‘love letters’ to Maria all this time, but pretending to be Robert. The letters are filled with wild stories and conquests making Robert a cult-hero to the local people.
This movie is high on the charm, but not much else. Mastroianni is engaging and endearing. I wasn’t too crazy about his mustache and I don’t think it was needed, but he otherwise sparkles in every scene he is in and gives the film much needed energy. Lemmon is fun too, but he seems old and tired here. The camera stays locked on his worn, emotionless face during his entire cab ride from the airport to his hotel, which was too much and the main problem with the film in that director Ettore Scola’s scenes are too long. However, together with Mastroianni these two legendary actors make for an interesting duo. The way their friendship blossoms and slowly progresses is natural and pleasing. The best shot of the whole film is watching the two walking along a shore of rocks from a bird’s-eye-view. Lemmon also plays a bouncy piano piece and I wished they had let him play more of it.
The film gives one a nice sense of Italian city life. The on-location shooting makes if feel and look authentic. There is a lot of focus on Italian food and desserts that will make one hungry by the time it is over. The soft, melodic music is relaxing and peaceful and perfectly reflects the easy-going nature of the script, but ends up getting a bit over-played.
The film’s main issue is that there is just not enough story here. It is almost a one-joke script dealing with Antonio’s fabricated letters, which is funny for a while especially when Robert argues with him about some of the lies in the letters and how he would have preferred that they’d be exaggerated differently, but nothing else. The film takes too long to get there and they tack on a very formuliac and contrived ending dealing with Antonio trying to avoid the mob who is after him for some unpaid debts and Robert’s attempts to save him. There is also the fact that Maria, who Robert supposedly was in-love with at one time, never speaks a word of dialogue. In fact the two never share much of any type of conversation, which seemed odd. The other family members and friends appear too naïve for believing all of the wild scenarios that Antonio wrote in the letters that would make anyone else skeptical. By portraying them as being so gullible makes them stereotypes and is unrealistic.
I’m surprised that these two actors of such high stature agreed to take on this limp material, or didn’t demand for more changes when they did. Even if you are fans of these leading men it still isn’t worth seeking out even for a slow night.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: October 24, 1985
Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes
Director: Ettore Scola