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In Rome just before the second world war, two dressmakers are bitter rivals: the self-important Catholic, Umberto, (Diego Abatantuono) and the happy-go-lucky and Jewish, Leone (Sergio Castellitto). Their shops are side-by-side and at first Leone is always antagonising Umberto with what the latter regards as unscrupulous business practices. However, gradually their families become better acquainted and their respective elder children even fall in love. But all is not so well in the larger world, and things will never be the same after laws are passed that discriminate against Italian Jews.

Review by Jake Wilson:
A conventional but graceful craftsman, veteran director Ettore Scola could be termed either an "art" filmmaker or a skilled popular entertainer. Perhaps evidence for the second description, his new film Unfair Competition is a comedy of stock types rather than individuals: almost all members of the distinguished cast are reduced to bumbling puppets, each with a limited schtick. Much of the action unfolds around a single overdressed period set: two rival clothes shops and their attached living-quarters, fronting a cobbled street with pines and vintage trams. While the stage-set or Punch-and-Judy effect is never more than an overtone, the mobile camera strikingly insists on the 3D solidity of this massive space: the two families are literally placed side-by-side throughout the film, a blindingly simple piece of visual rhetoric that encourages us to note both differences and similarities in their behaviourial styles. Perhaps the funniest scenes work through the contrast - on every literal and figurative level - between the rival patriarchs: Umberto the upright and pompous solid citizen, versus Leone the loose-limbed, silver-tongued Jew. The danger is that caricature in this context remains a two-edged sword, liable to reinforce the same stereotypical divisions it mocks; ultimately the Jewish characters emerge as more attractive but less directly knowable than their Christian counterparts. The dramatic crux of the film is thus not the departure of Leone and his family but the complicity with evil felt by Umberto's son; he's left to gaze into nothingness as his childhood friends drive away on the back of a truck, never (we suspect) to return. But can a true-life drama of persecution also work as a coming-of-age tragicomedy - and which emotion should dominate, devastation or bittersweet nostalgia? Unfair Competition isn't half as fascinating or ingenious as Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, but the genre of both films (and others) might be dubbed "atrocity pastoral." Or just call it bad faith: the horrors of the twentieth century are desperately invoked (and invested in) as a source of significance, yet a child's-eye viewpoint simultaneously stands outside these horrors, refusing to grant them their obvious meaning.

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Concorrenza sleale

CAST: Diego Abatantuono, Sergio Castellitto, Gérard Depardieu, Jean-Claude Brialy, Claude Rich

PRODUCER: Franco Committeri

DIRECTOR: Ettore Scola

SCRIPT: Fulvio Scola, Giacomo Scarpelli, Ettore Scola, Silvia Scola


EDITOR: Raimondo Crociani

MUSIC: Armando Trovajoli

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Cinzia Lo Fazio, Luciano Ricceri

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 18, 2002 (Melbourne; other states to follow)

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