A Magnificent Haunting

A Magnificent Haunting

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Pietro (Elio Germano) is a haunted man. He's haunted by his dream of becoming an actor. He's haunted by his feelings for a distant other. That he should also be haunted by ghosts seems only natural, and since Pietro has built his life around fantasy, it seems appropriate that phantasms should be the ones who understand him. In this multi-layered film, fantasy and reality mingle as easily as the living and the dead, but it's the deceptions we create to justify our actions that are really under scrutiny.

Pietro is a chef, moving to Rome on a low wage in pursuit of an unlikely romance. As fans of the horror genre will know, choosing a haunted apartment is one of the best ways to beat rising prices, and our hero is delighted by his new abode - at least until he starts to hear noises in the night. Figures glimpsed behind him in mirrors, a cold hand touching his at night, and suddenly the spacious reception rooms seem cavernous, the windowless central room cage-like, the four foot high storage room obliquely terrifying. Director Ozpetek handles familiar devices with skill. Unfortunately it's all a little rushed so it doesn't quite achieve its potential - the scares are just a temporary device here before we move onto comedy underscored by memories of a time when terror had a different face.

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Much of what follows is culture clash comedy focused on the interaction between Pietro and the ghosts. As actors themselves, they are quick to adopt him and try to help his career, but since they are a theatre troupe from 1943 their ideas of what makes a great actor are a little out of step with the world of modern advertising. This awkwardness serves to highlight the lack of realism in Pietro's own interaction with the world, and his self-centeredness, which prevents him from perceiving the bigger stories unfolding around him. He's not an uncaring person - we see him take the trouble to look after a transgender person who has been attacked, who hints to him that being true to oneself is more important than buying into others' philosophies about what's real - but he's so wrapped up in what he might become that he fails to notice what's going on around him, even to the point where he might miss out on a real possibility of love.

It's unfortunate for this film that it should come out so soon after Midnight in Paris, sharing some of its trappings but lacking its finely tuned wit or skill at character building. It's an ensemble piece in which some characters barely develop at all, which is a shame given the fine work of the actors involved. What does work is the humour around acting itself, which will give this particular appeal to those who have spent time in related professions, and there's a stunning shot alongside the final credits which neatly parallels, and reduces, an earlier audition scene. There are also cinematic in-jokes, with the ghosts at dinner in the apartment where they are trapped recalling The Exterminating Angel. But most effective is the film's playing with the concept of character motivation, highlighting the studied intellectual complexity prevalent in theatrical fiction in contrast to the often crude driving forces present in reality.

A Magnificent Haunting doesn't achieve the grand heights it aspires to and it probably won't haunt you for very long, but it has some interesting ideas and it contains some very impressive work. Like its ghosts, it has a tendency to drift and lose focus. There are moments of magic here but not enough holding them together.

Reviewed on: 19 Oct 2013
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A would-be actor finds his new home haunted by the ghosts of actors past, but sometimes reality is stranger than fiction.
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Director: Ferzan Ozpetek

Writer: Ferzan Ozpetek, Federica Pontremoli

Starring: Elio Germano, Margherita Buy, Vittoria Puccini, Beppe Fiorello, Paola Minaccioni, Cem Yilmaz, Andrea Bosca, Claudia Potenza, Ambrogio Maestri, Matteo Savino

Year: 2012

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy

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