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Canadian Clubs: Sister Anna (Claudia Ferri) gets a surprise when she discovers her brother, Angelo (Luke Kirby, right) and his lover, Nino (Peter Miller).

Gay Village

Even Canadian parents don't want to know their son is gay in 'Mambo Italiano'

By Richard von Busack

TRAVEL AGENT by day, failed writer by night, Angelo (Luke Kirby) bears his share of dissatisfactions. The worst problem is having to live at home, like so many unmarried second-generation male Sicilian immigrants; if he doesn't get married, he'll end up like his gay male neighbor, still being slapped around like a kid by his parents at age 50. Angelo manages to escape from the immigrant tyrants (Paul Sorvino and Ginette Reno, both on the ball) who raised him. But when he takes up with a very good-looking cop named Nino (Peter Miller), who's also a lapsed childhood pal from the old neighborhood, word gets out about Angelo.

Mambo Italiano isn't just Kiss Me Guido all over again. It's got the snarl of David Sedaris' essays, with sequences at a gay telephone emergency line that are too un-P.C. and far too funny for prime time. Steve Galluccio's source play seems adapted instead of just thrown up haphazard onscreen as a filmed play for the gay date-movie trade. Director Émile Gaudreault is influenced by the gaudy '50s comedy of Frank Tashlin, but he isn't the kind of director who thinks that people are going to go into convulsions of laughter at the sight of loud wallpaper.

Having said that, let's commend Serge Ladouceur's photography, Francesca Chamberland's costumes and Patricia Christie's production design. In this film, Montreal--blooming in the midst of a hot summer--looks like a city that got as far as the fabulous 1950s and decided it would stick with those colors and that look from then on in. And this retro backdrop makes Angelo's worries about being outed more serious. (There's a running joke about the "gay village" Angelo's supposed to relocate to; by contrast to the warm brick suburbs, floral prints and brilliantly colored Hawaiian shirts the movie's stuffed with, these gay-village scenes look as sinister as a meeting of the Kraftwerk Fan Club.)

Claudia Ferri, as Angelo's nervous sister, shows off sitcom comedy of the finest style. Sophie Lorain, as the sharp-nailed wench who pounces on Nino, makes a big impression while rustling up a little heterosexual appeal. I liked how Lorain talks out of one side of her wicked, crooked mouth. ("Give me two hours in the gay village, and they're ain't gonna be no more gay village,' she boasts.) In the second half, all the frantic energy threatens to spin it apart--you're waiting for a massive payoff instead of the little explosions and reconciliations that ensue. The movie is froth, but it's tough-minded froth. Mambo Italiano deserves credit as a movie that always chooses "entertainment" over "empowerment."

Mambo Italiano (R; 88 min.), directed by Émile Gaudreault, written by Gaudreault and Steve Galluccio, photographed by Serge Ladouceur and starring Luke Kirby, Peter Miller, Ginette Reno and Paul Sorvino, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the September 18-24, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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