Roseanna's Grave is such a quietly unassuming film it probably doesn't know how extraordinary it is - - an accessible, quirky comedy that has all the vision and off-beat imagination of a foreign language arthouse film. But without the subtitles, or the polo-necked pretentiousness.
In many respects, the film is inspired by 1996's Oscar-nominated Il Postino. Which is to say it has a British director, it explores the themes of love, friendship and death and it's full to its Chianti-glass brim with sun-drenched, olive-oil-soaked charm - thanks to the guiding hand of director Paul Weiland and the skill of his talented cast.
Incredibly, Roseanna is only Weiland's second feature outing. Having cut his canines on TV commercials, and with only a modest credit on City Slickers 2 to his name, he directs the steadily paced action magnificently, and his dream-like visions of the Italian village of Travento are so full of rich texture and sumptuous, picturesque images they could have been lifted straight from a Ragu advert.
In his first English-language comedy, cinema hard man Jean Reno (Mission Impossible, Leon) is an absolute joy. His gifts were never in doubt, but in Roseanna he slaps a whole new layer on the acting lasagne, delivering a performance that's charming, sad and very funny: Marcello frantically tries to keep the townsfolk alive, preventing suicides, running errands, snatching ciggies from people's mouths, even hiding a roadkill victim so that the last cemetery plot won't be filled.
The rest of the cast, working from Turteltaub's able script, are just as good: Mercedes Ruehl's Roseanna is the perfect complement to Reno's God-playing Marcello, and Polly Walker is radiant as the dying woman's sultry sister Cecilia. The other (distinctly oddball) citizenry are played by Italian actors, all of whom speak the Queen's English beautifully.
While Roseanna's Grave is, at times, a curious blend of comedy, romance and drama, its arrival halfway through 1997's disappointing blockbuster season is to be heartily welcomed: it'll provide film-goers with some much-needed relief from mangy bats, limping cruise liners and toothless dinosaurs.
Roseanna's Grave: a "timeless tale" of "love and life". Don't let the packaging put you off, though - - this is a fine film. Low-sugar emotion mixes with raucous comedy to create one of the most pleasant surprises of the cinematic year.