It's the last day of the 19th century, and the family and friends of Francesca Babini (Ines Sastre) and Edgardo Osti (Dario Cantarelli) have reason to be happy. Edgardo, one of the wealthiest men in the district, is finally giving up the bachelor's life. The lucky girl is Francesca, but she doesn't feel very lucky: she is not marrying for love, but agrees to the marriage for her parents' sake. Then, on the way to the altar, she unexpectedly spies her true love, Angelo Beliossi (Diego Abatantuono), the best man. Cultured, handsome, and wealthy, he has just returned from America. As Francesca stands before the priest, she gazes at Angelo while reciting her vows, marrying him in her mind rather than Edgardo.
"Not a bad idea getting married at the end of a century; keeping track of
anniversaries shouldn’t be too difficult. Ines Sastre’s bride-to-be isn’t
impressed though; the date of betrothal is small compensation for marrying without love.
For the guests, however, it is an opportunity to celebrate expectations of an exciting
future. And it is this anticipation of change that provides a subtle backdrop to what
might otherwise amount to an exquisitely crafted, but overly predictable, romantic soap
opera. There are ironies aplenty in the unbridled, fin de siecle optimism. Not quite
serious musings on the possibility of man reaching the moon are intermingled with toasts
to inevitable progress – a century without war must surely beckon. Ah, the benefits
of hindsight. But the possibilities that aren’t considered are even more revealing.
No-one, except Sastre’s Francesca, contemplates an age in which romantic love is
perceived as something more than an illusion. All the while, the simplest of love stories
unfolds within a milieu of luxurious splendor. The unpretentious narrative undoubtedly
lacks substance, but such is the nature of the genre. P.D. James has commented that even
Jane Austen is ‘Mills and Boon written by a genius’. The Best Man is certainly
no work of genius but it is sumptuously filmed (a la Merchant Ivory) and at its best
moments delightfully enchanting."
"Billed as a romantic comedy, this dull Italian film has neither much romance and even far less comedy. A film that questions the true meaning of love at the dawn of a new century, the ideas prevalent in this slight film are certainly encouraging, but with lacklustre performances and simplistically designed characters, the film never rings true. The film is certainly gorgeous on the eye, with veteran director Pupi Avati maximising use of evocative lighting and breathtaking use of colour to create this New Year's Eve of 1899. But pretty pictures don't necessarily make for strong cinema, and for a film that purports to be about romance, what there is, is a film devoid of passion or soul, and so the film never has a chance of connecting with his intended audience. In addition, the casting of lead actor Diego Abatantuono as the millionaire returning to the small Italian community he left behind, was ill advised. Apart from delivering one of the dullest screen performances of the year, his completely uncharismatic aura makes it impossible to believe that this beautiful young woman, so desperate to experience love, would risk everything for this dull, wimpy, character. Thus, from the outset, the movie falls into a heap of disbelief. The Best Man delves into some fascinating themes, including the religious symbolism of marriage, but it's so poorly structured, with little emotional resonance, that the film barely has a chance to engage an audience. The Best Man may be the title of this sluggish affair, but it doesn't apply to the actor who portrays him.
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BEST MAN, THE (G)
CAST: Diego Abantantuono, Ines Sastre, Dario Cantarelli, Cinia Mascoli, Valeria
D’Obici, Toni Santagata, Nini Salerno, Mario Erpichini, Ugo Conti
DIRECTOR: Pupi Avati
PRODUCER: Aurelio De Laurentiis, Antonio Avati
SCRIPT: Pupi Avati
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pasquale Rachini
EDITOR: Amedeo Salfa
MUSIC: Riz Ortolani
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alberto Cottignoli, Steno Tonelli
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 29, 1998