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By Jessica Baxter | June 7, 2013

My experience with Italian cinema is mostly limited to the U.S. crossover titles of Fellini, Argento, Bertolucci, and Benigni. But among those examples is one unifying tone: high camp. As far as I know, Italians are cinematically incapable of a light touch. Even in a film about the holocaust things tend to get pretty bonkers.

Director Pappi Corsicato brings not only the Italian flare for camp to his film “Il Volto di Un’altra (Another Woman’s Face),” but also a hint of heavy-handed allegory. There’s not a sympathetic character in the bunch. Also, I’m pretty sure the entire script is built around the idea of spraying a dazzling white room, filled with alabaster-garbed narcissists, in liquid s**t.

The story, by Corsicato and Daniele Orland, concerns a famous television couple who share the limelight on a plastic surgery makeover show: Bella (Laura Chiatti) is the hostess and René (Alessandro Preziosi) is the doctor who performs the surgeries out of his remotely located clinic, where his patients wander around the grounds, mummified and bruised from their alterations. The appearance of the residents is just one of the many heavy-handed examples of the film’s thesis surrounding superficiality.

One day, the show’s producers give Bella the ax because the show’s numbers suggest that the country is ”tired of her face.” René does nothing to help her, and she storms out, only to have a fateful encounter with the wrong end of a toilet (although I suppose there is no “right” end).

Tru Tru (Lino Guanciale), a grimily handsome maintenance worker at the clinic, is the man responsible for dropping the wayward toilet through Bella’s windshield and directly onto her face (where the bowl creates a perfect, blood-filled frame around her – I’ll let you work out the physics on that one). At first, he’s guilt-stricken about the accident and “rescues” her from the wreck. But then he overhears René and an unharmed Bella formulate a plot to collect a big insurance payoff and re-boot her career with televised facial reconstruction surgery. At this discovery, Tru Tru’s remorse melts away and he uses the privileged information to bribe the nefarious couple in an attempt to further his aspiring music career.

Since the public thinks Bella is disfigured, she wears a full-face mask under the guise that she’s too horrible to look at. In order to keep up the ruse, Bella stays in her suite at the clinic, lounging around in silk and fur coats. This isn’t the only plot that moves forward at a snail’s pace. Corsicato jumps around quite a bit, but rarely imparts any new information.

There’s the straining septic tank in the basement coupled with the brown stain on Bella’s ceiling that can only mean an impending s**t storm. I’m pretty sure it’s the same shot of the septic tank every time.

There’s also the growing crowd of fans camping outside the compound, eagerly anticipating Bella’s makeover episode. Apparently this plastic surgery show is one of the most popular programs in Italy, beloved by the whole family. Regardless, that’s no reason why these people would drive to the middle of nowhere only to watch the episode on a screen. I’m sure Corsicato would like us to believe it’s some sort of commentary on the public’s obsession with fame, but it seems more likely that he was consolidating shooting locations.

And then there’s my favorite over-hyped subplot, which involves an asteroid called Tony that is headed for Earth. We check in on Tony via radio news reports that basically boil down to “It’s probably going to be fine, but maybe not?” The best thing about this is the name, which makes me wonder if, within the world of the film, other countries gave the asteroid their own colloquial moniker (e.g. Asteroid Francois, Asteroid Klaus, Asteroid Dave).

There are some delightfully irreverent moments in “Another Woman’s Face” that continue to put a smile on my face. Bella and René do an impromptu Fosse-esque celebratory dance number after they think they’ve got the insurance company fooled. When we finally see Tru Tru perform, his act involves his entire crew of supermodel repairmen and ventriloquist dummies. The three leads deliver their lines with the appropriate amount of soap opera seriousness.

But there are also some painfully on-the-nose bits that wear thin, such as the antics of the “nurses” at the clinic who do little more than run around Benny Hill-style and the nuns who constantly pass out laxatives (again with the fecal humor) to patients. I realize that Corsicato was going for broad, but somehow it all feels far-fetched even for a cartoon.

For a high-fashion bunch, the Italians sure keep their minds firmly planted in the gutter. Corsicato can’t go five minutes without dropping innuendo that’s so conspicuous; it may as well be an outuendo. You can also bet on plenty of a*s grabbing. And not light squeezes either. The Italian flag should just be a woman’s a*s in a mini dress with a man’s hand pressing his fingers deep into her flesh.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the film is the resolution to the impending s**t bath. Given the amount foreshadowing, I was expecting a lot more than just a couple of spewing hoses. I wanted a Kubrickian elevator s**t tsunami. Corsicato sure picked a strange time to exercise restraint.

Despite it’s myriad problems, “Another Woman’s Face” isn’t a bad way to spend an evening. But at the end of the day, it’s too much like the characters it admonishes. It’s attractive and will show you a good time but there’s not much under the surface and you won’t be calling again.

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