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Chiara Mastroianni in Christophe Honoré Comedy

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When Italy’s most famous and seductive leading man hooked up with one of France’s most elegant and versatile young stars in the early 1970s, it felt like an arthouse cinema match made in heaven. Alas, the relationship between Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve would be a short-lived one, lasting for roughly four years and resulting in four rather mediocre movies. (The last one was a forgotten Western spoof by Italian director Marco Ferreri entitled Don’t Touch the White Woman!)

The two screen legends also had a baby daughter, Chiara, who grew up to become a talented and coveted actress herself. She played her first big role in André Téchiné’s My Favorite Season at the age of 21 and went on to work with a handful of respected international auteurs, including Raúl Ruiz, Arnaud Desplechin, Manoel de Oliveira, Claire Denis and especially Christophe Honoré, who has made her something of a muse.

Marcello Mio

The Bottom Line

Looking for la dolce vita.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Fabrice Luchini, Nicole Garcia, Benjamin Biolay, Melvil Poupaud, Hugh Skinner, Stefania Sandrelli
Director, screenwriter: Christophe Honoré

2 hours

Teaming up for their fourth collaboration in over a decade, the director and actress now give us the very meta, very inside-baseball film comedy, Marcello Mio, in which Chiara literally transforms into her famous late father — donning his looks from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and , speaking fluent Italian, hanging out with her mom, Catherine, and trying to find out something about herself, or her dad, or the power that movies hold over us.

Whether or not you, the viewer, will find any of that interesting or amusing probably depends on your knowledge of European film History and/or your tolerance for French actors playing themselves on screen. How many people, for instance, will get the pun referencing Ruiz’s surreal 1996 thriller Three Lives and Only One Death, which starred both Marcello and Chiara? Or the fact that Chiara’s bathroom in Paris has the same wall tiles as Marcello’s character in ? Moreover, how many will even care if they do get it?

In some ways, Marcello Mio is the ultimate arthouse nepo baby flick, in which the child of cinema royalty embodies her legendary patriarch in order both to get closer to him and to purge herself of some of the demons that have haunted her own life and career — mainly, the fact that people have a tendency to compare her to her famous parents.

As vain as that sounds, there is something sincere and emotional that manages, at least a couple of times, to pierce through the otherwise shallow depths of this movie, which of course premiered in comPetition in Cannes (a festival whose recent official posters have been graced by Deneuve and Mastroianni père).

Who doesn’t want to reconnect with a deceased loved one? Or to crawl out from the shadows they cast upon us? These are worthy questions that Honoré asks but never really answers, opting instead for in-jokes, homages, cameos and a flighty narrative that fails to sustain his film’s high-concept premise.

The movie opens with Chiara jumping into the fountain at Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris, during a chaotic fashion shoot recreating the famous Trevi Fountain scene in La Dolce Vita. The next morning, she wakes up and sees her father’s face in the bathroom mirror. And it’s true, she’s always resembled her dad more than her mom, even if she’s made her life as an actress in France instead of Italy. The image of her father nonetheless shakes her up, as does a casting session for a new movie during which director Nicole Garcia tells her to play the scene “more like Mastroianni than Deneuve.”

Taking that advice à la lettre, Chiara soon morphs into Marcello, wandering around Paris wearing his trademark costumes from the two above-mentioned Fellini classics, as well as a wig to mimic his slick-backed hairstyle. When she eats lunch at a local Italian restaurant, the shocked owner immediately calls Deneuve, who shows up and reacts fairly well considering her daughter is pretending to be her dead father. French star Fabrice Luchini, who was in the audition with Chiara, also loves the new look and decides to help his co-star on her mission.

The goal of that mission is never fully made clear, and what could have been a curious piece of cinematic self-exploration feels more like a self-indulgent running gag that isn’t all that funny. Humor has never been Honoré’s forte and most of the jokes here land with an indifferent thud — except in one scene where Deneuve visits Marcello’s old apartment and acts like a total ice-cold diva, dissing the new owner for his poor taste in interior design.

Things get out of hand after Chiara heads to Rome to go on a talk show in full Marcello mode, prompting her mom to chase after her accompanied by Luchini, Garcia, French arthouse fave Melvil Poupaud, singer-actor Benjamin Biolay (whose tailor-made chansons are performed by the cast) and a lovesick British soldier (Hugh Skinner) whom we meet in a sequence referencing Luchino Visconti’s White Nights, which also starred Marcello. The scenes in Italy feel silly and slight — the Italian press may not appreciate the way they, or their favorite actor, are depicted here — and the plot withers away into frivolity.

Even if Marcello Mio depicts a woman temporarily transforming into a man, gender Politics are never at the forefront of a story that’s ultimately about a Celebrity shedding her own skin to become another Celebrity. It’s a gesture that can seem both narcissistic and innocent, and in some ways completely natural: Mastroianni and her on-screen cohorts only hang out with other film people here, and the bubble they exist in — a Left Bank version of the Hollywood bubble — can feel like a museum for aging talents and movie nostalgists, especially in a world where films no longer dominate the cultural zeitgeist like they did back in Marcello’s days of arthouse glory.

“You have your place in the cinema and your parents have nothing to do with it!” Luchini shouts at Chiara early on (as he tends to shout most of his lines). But he’s quite right: Mastroianni fille is an accomplished actress who has built her own solid résumé since the 1990s, with a particular knack for playing neurotic Parisians like the one she convincingly plays here. She doesn’t have much left to prove to us at this point, which is probably the same thing that could be said about this movie.

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