Lost Love aka A Sicilian Dream (Perduto amor)

Italy (2003) Dir. Franco Battiato

When films are based on personal experiences and told through that same personal lens, the director often runs the risk of losing his or her audience if they present their story in an arcane manner only they understand. Lost Love is such a film – an autobiographical drama from celebrated Italian singer-songwriter Franco Battiato that doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Beginning in the early 1950’s, young Ettore (Luca Vitrano) is growing up in a matriarchal household with his mother Mary (Donatella Finocchiaro) as his father Luigi (Antonino Bruschetta) is always “away” on business. Amidst this, Ettore discovers a passion for music and is sent for piano lessons with classical loving gentry Tommaso Pasini (Gabriele Ferzetti) and his wife Clara (Rada Rassimov).

In the mid-1960’s with Ettore (Corrado Fortuna) now in the latter years of his education, he has found a new interest in science and philosophy which he is finding is crossing over into music as times change. With the blessing of his mother and the Pasinis, Ettore moves to Milan to figure out what his destiny should be.

Ashamed as I am to admit this, I had to get the details of the plot from the scant other reviews online for Lost Love for not being able to discern them for myself from watching the film. Perhaps I am to blame for being so dense but in my defence, Franco Battiato is the one who made this shapeless film in the first place in his vision so he can share some of the responsibility for this.

Making the assumption Battiato was a fan of Tarkovsky’s Mirror from the same obtuse way the story is presented, albeit in chronological form unlike Tarkovsky’s randomness, this is more a series of vignettes that only occasional bother to further the narrative. Quite often scenes are there for no apparent reason other than Battiato wanting them there, of at least that is how it feels.

Such a lazy approach is not limited to the paper-thin story but to establishing the cast and settings too. The opening scene sees a gathering of women sitting in the backyard of a big house engaging in some communal sewing, with no context whatsoever or any indication as to who they are. It’s only later that we learn the prettiest one (natch) would be Mary and the senior of the group her mother Augusta (Anna Maria Gherardi).

Ettore is a typical child of the 50’s, in his shorts, tank top, and filial piety to his mother but doesn’t show any specific signs of standing out from the other children, physically or otherwise. We can surmise if this is a tale of not having a proper male influence in his life as Ettore’s father is a philandering louse, his trips away a cover for the infidelity he claims didn’t “really” happen.

Luigi insist that these flings are meaningless and his heart really belongs to Mary, adding him to the list of loathsome adulterers who think their mealy-mouthed excuses justify everything. Rather than get angry, Mary pities Luigi, saying he’s not married to her but his “old chap” before sending him on his way. This is unfortunate as it’s the one subplot that is straightforward and left unfettered, yet is over and done in only a few scenes.

Regular service is resumed with young adult Ettore refusing to attend church with his family, wanting to write about metaphysics and chase girls with his friends instead. He also discovers beat music and radical thinking groups, discovering the overlap between the two. During his sojourn to Milan, Ettore meets and plays with a number of different musical acts each with their own interpretation of what current popular music is.

Again, there is a slight annoyance in the anachronisms of these bands within the period, from the instruments used and the styles of music to the appearances of the musicians themselves. Using popular Italian pop acts as they are with modern fashion in what is supposed to be 1967/8 is an odd choice and even more unforgiveable slip-up given the amount of dedication gone into recreating the prior decade with such care and attention.

Plus, with music being the intrinsic theme of the film, not representing this period in the soundtrack whilst the classical and operatic from before is prominent in the first half surely undermines the whole point of Ettore’s central conflict if he is not shown becoming enamoured by the sounds of his generation? The closest we get is one guy dismissing American rock as noise whilst his band mate insists that noise is the vital element of modern music.

I suppose we can count ourselves lucky the film only runs for 82 minutes but honestly, it felt longer, a side effect of not having a defined storyline to anchor it down and build upon across that time. To signify the end of a scene, the screen abruptly fades to black; a jump in the timeline is never acknowledge, the only indicator being Ettore’s sudden growth spurt from a small kid to a scrawny 6 foot young adult.

The presentation however is worthy of praise. Marco Pontecorvos’ cinematography is a heady mix of dreamy nostalgia in the first half and esoteric observer in the second half, capturing the spirits of both time periods with vividness and warmth. The cast, I guess, are good in their roles but it is hard to judge them when they have little definition or substance, the only exception being Mary.

Battiato won many best new director awards for Lost Love although I personally am not sure or convinced as to why. For someone known as a successful musician, it is baffling that he can make a film with no sense of rhythm or feeling. Others will disagree with me about this, I am certain of it, but this film left me empty and feeling the only thing lost, unfortunately, was 82 minutes of my time.