Filmed in the fall of 1994, TARANTELLA--named for an Italian folk dance believed to drive away poison--quietly disappeared after scattered festival showings in 1995. But within weeks of the announcement of star Mira Sorvino's Academy Award nomination for MIGHTY APHRODITE in 1996 (she
subsequently won the award), the film was dusted off for a limited run in movie theaters. It's a testament to Sorvino's continuing appeal and the rising star status of Matthew Lillard (1996's SCREAM) that this unremarkable story of self-discovery and ethnic identity managed to find a home video
distributor in 1998.
Diana Di Sorella (Mira Sorvino) is a professional photographer who has distanced herself from her family and her Italian-American heritage. She returns to her old neighborhood after her widowed mother dies suddenly. Confronted with the sights and sounds and smells of her childhood, Diana finds
that the task of selling her mother's house and disposing of its contents isn't as cut and dried and she had presumed.
Armed with gnocchi, her mother's best friend Pina (Rose Gregorio) imposes herself on Diana's life. Though the two women clash at first, they develop a close friendship over the succeeding weeks, as Pina tries to help Diana understand and appreciate her heritage. Pina translates for Diana her
mother's libro di casa--a scrapbook of family mementos and history. The book reveals a long-buried secret: Diana's grandmother poisoned her abusive husband back in Italy before emigrating to the US. Diana believes the secret explains the silent reserve her mother and grandmother maintained
throughout their lives.
As Diana comes to embrace her "Italian-ness," the transformation goes deeper than just learning how to cook tomato sauce. Diana's boyfriend Matt (Matthew Lillard) comes for a visit and tries to persuade her to go back home with him. But Diana's journey isn't over: She stays to finish learning her
mother's story, and to help Pina, who is terminally ill, end her own life with an overdose of pills.
Other than as a curio of Sorvino and Lillard's pre-stardom careers, TARANTELLA offers little to recommend it. In their first feature film, director Helen De Michiel and screenwriter Richard Hoblock clearly lucked out in the casting department. TARANTELLA isn't an embarrassment--it just isn't very
good. Sorvino is likable in an undemanding role. (If this is the worst of her early acting efforts to be unearthed and exploited, she can be counted among the lucky ones.) Lillard displays a goofy charm in a more-restrained precursor of roles to come (SCREAM, SENSELESS, SHE'S ALL THAT).
Gregorio--familiar from the films of her husband, director Ulu Grosbard--is believable as the meddling mentor.
The film's only unique convention is the use of puppetry to illustrate the grandmother's story: these vignettes are well-executed and visually striking, but they stand in jarring contrast to the naturalistic style of the narrative and the surrealism of Diana's childhood memories. This hodge-podge
of visual styles, coupled with a slow moving script, subvert what emotional resonance the story contains. (Sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1998
- Rating: NR
- Review: Filmed in the fall of 1994, TARANTELLA--named for an Italian folk dance believed to drive away poison--quietly disappeared after scattered festival showings in 1995. But within weeks of the announcement of star Mira Sorvino's Academy Award nomination for M… (more)