Any time the 67-year-old Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio can get a movie released in this country, it's cause for relief. His previous stateside release, 2003's "Good Morning, Night," dramatized the kidnapping and murder of the politician Aldo Moro . His new movie, "The Wedding Director," which opens today at the Museum of Fine Arts, is nowhere near as good and dolorous, but it's just about as fanciful with its story of a noted moviemaker named Franco Elica (Sergio Castellitto ) who finds himself called upon to film other people's nuptials.
This happens almost cosmically. At his daughter's wedding, a guest beseeches Franco to join the fray of cameramen. Later, while strolling along a Sicilian beach, an admiring videographer asks how he would film the just-married couple currently fooling around in the sand. What Franco describes is a work of soft porn. Eventually, he's called upon to shoot the wedding of a prince's daughter. "Marriage is the death of love," says the prince, who's played by French star Sami Frey . Even dubbed, he's a suave bully. It helps to imagine the menacing Robert Blake character in David Lynch's "Lost Highway" sent to charm school. (Incidentally, the random use of surveillance cameras triggers flashes of Lynch's movies; they account for only some of this movie's conscious and semi-conscious cinematic references.)
The prince's offer is more of a demand, since he threatens to corroborate some sexual harassment charges pending against Franco (garden-variety casting-couch stuff). Never mind the director's attraction to the daughter, Bona (Donatella Finocchiaro ), who just happens to be the same woman who's been desperate for a part in his latest project, an adaptation of Alessandro Manzoni's great historical novel "The Betrothed." (It's her favorite book.)
I should say "The Wedding Director" is a preposterous adventure in dubious erotica and thriller mechanics (look out for a musical score that veers between Hitchcockian attack strings and the queasy synth-scapes of 1980s schlock). Scarcely anything in "The Wedding Director" coheres. Cutaways to René Clair's short 1924 Dada fantasia "Entr'acte" only further heighten the randomness afoot.
But Bellocchio's indifference to order, logic, and character just means he has other priorities. Ostensibly light, the film maximizes Franco's pickle as absurdist comedy with loud satirical blips: What if, say, John Sayles were asked to helm bar mitzvahs? Basically, "The Wedding Director" is a vociferous plea for the bygone value of movies as simultaneous vehicles for art and politics, for movies to matter exactly in their moment. No one delivers this eulogy better than an oldster director (the terrific Gianni Cavina ) who fakes his death to win his latest picture a Donatello award.
Franco's being blackmailed into filming weddings with a camcorder is a joke that Bellocchio finds too terrifying to be funny. All the movie's real comedy comes in the opening scene at Franco's daughter's wedding, where for a few minutes Bellocchio's filmmaking, after all these years, proves steeped still in a kind of mild surrealism that's achieved through long silences, odd cutting, and jarring shifts in tone. At least three times irreverence shatters the pious mood of this wedding: The guests trample the bride's train, but does she care? Bellocchio's disdain for the Catholic Church remains in top condition.
But what does it say that this is really the only blissful passage in this picture? The rest bogs down in a dreaminess that gave "Good Morning, Night" all its thematic consequence. This new movie's breeziness sinks like a coin down a wishing well. A tale of important directors teetering on the verge of national obsolescence might hit too close to home for Bellocchio to think rationally. "Do you make art or chocolate commercials?" the prince taunts Franco. The strained art in "The Wedding Director" makes you hungry for the candy.