Adapted from Italian author Alberto Simone’s screenplay Un Amore a Roma (Love in Rome), The Italian Recipe premiered at Udine’s Far East Film Festival on April 22. The screening also marked Chinese director Hou Zuxin’s big-screen debut.
The Italian Recipe is a Chinese-Italian co-production resulting from the European association Bridging the Dragon’s efforts to promote audiovisual collaborations with China.
While the film was scheduled to show in China this May (before making its rounds in Europe), ongoing lockdowns across the country mean an official release date has yet to be announced.
In The Italian Recipe, romance is served with a side of social satire. Expect a balancing act of saccharine scenes, absurd comedy, and introspective moments.
Set in Rome, the story follows Peng (performed by Liu Xun), a Chinese pop singer struggling to stand out in an increasingly competitive industry of stardom. Accompanied by his agent Pete (played by Wu Yingzhe), who plays the hokey part of ‘token gay pal,’ Peng travels to the Italian capital to participate in a reality TV show.
During the trip, Peng finds himself falling for his down-to-earth chauffeur.
Sharp-tongued Mandy (acted by Huang Yao), who has lived in Rome with her uncles since her mother’s death, is the yin to Peng’s yang. Unlike the wealthy, arrogant and pampered musician, Mandy is studying hard to enter law school while also working multiple jobs, including moonlighting in a kitchen.
After some initial bad blood between the two, a rather-cliché story arc forces them to spend the night together wandering through the streets of Rome.
While the two lovebirds hop from one historical site to another, agent Pete is busy turning Peng’s disappearance into a lucrative opportunity by spreading rumors that a crazy fan had kidnaped him.
By spotlighting celebrity culture in The Italian Recipe, Director Hou hopes to offer her own take on the phenomena. During a talk at the Far East Film Festival, Hou recalled her journey of competing on one of China’s most popular talent shows, The Voice of China:
“I am used to being surrounded by musicians and artists, and I feel like their talent is often wasted and their voices silenced because they have to follow their agents.”
Spoiler alert: Peng eventually chooses the path of a low-key independent songwriter, which conveys the director’s belief that one can achieve success by staying true to oneself.
While the film’s chaotic mix of Chinese actors speaking Italian, Italian actors speaking Chinese, and broken English spoken by both parties makes one wince, its most cringey element is — by far — Pete. The effeminate and melodramatic agent clashes with the film’s contemporary feel, and his tired depiction might be associated with the cheap humor of the past, when queerness equated to comedy.
However, The Italian Recipe’s stunning cinematography and unique soundtrack (jointly created by Hou and award-winner composer Santi Pulvirenti) make it a must-watch for East Asian rom-com aficionados.
All images courtesy of Far East Film Festival
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