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    Three Step Dancing

    Packed like Sardinians

    Four stories interlock in one movie — "Three Step Dancing," a patient portrait of personalities in Sardinia that introduces a worthy successor to the great names of Italian cinema.


    Salvatore Mereu's charming debut film joyfully blends the visual lyricism of Federico Fellini with the neo-realism of Roberto Rossellini in an Altmanesque quartet of related vignettes.

    Original title: Ballo a tre passi.
    Written and directed by: Salvatore Mereu.
    Cast: Yael Abecassis, Michele Carboni, Caroline Ducey, Daniele Casula, Giampaolo Loddo, Rosella Bergo.
    Cinematography: Renato Berta, Tommaso Borgstrom, Renato Bravi, Nicolas Franik.
    Edited by: Paola Freddi.
    In Sardinian, French and Italian with English subtitles.
    New Directors New Films 2004
  • Overview
  • Checkpoint
  • Eager Bodies
  • In Your Hands
  • Le Monde Vivant
  • Silent Waters
  • Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring
  • The Story of the Weeping Camel
  • Three Step Dancing
  • Vodka Lemon

  • Official festival site
  • Four tales of seasonal life in a rural Sardinian village, each with its own color palette and an age-appropriate hero or heroine, is the canvas on which Salvatore Mereu paints a batch of cinematic portraits in these character-driven short stories.

    For Spring, Mereu's story tells of a young man's fancy, well, a boy's actually, and his love for the sea he's never seen. But wearing his first bathing suit on this spring day, Andrea (Daniele Casula) will not only see, he will swim in the sea of his dreams. His sense of joy is so contagious that it's impossible to withhold a continuous smile during this first vignette.

    Think "Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Finn" rather than "Lord of the Flies," for the joyful innocence of Andrea and his friends is just boys being boys. The film looks like a Dogme production at first, as the boys ride, sharing a forbidden cigarette in the back of a truck on their way to the sea. There's no ancillary soundtrack, but much sound — the truck, a flock of sheep, the boys and the sea itself.

    When a pop song suddenly erupts as the boys run into the surf, it's disconcerting and almost too cute, until Mereu cuts to each boy's singular response to sea and sand and they are so delightful that this musical misstep no longer matters.

    Summer begins the film's tenuous interconnections by introducing the shepherd whose sheep appeared in the previous tale. Michele has the bearded visage and off-kilter demeanor of Nanni Moretti — he even rides through town on a Vespa a la "Caro Diaro." But the hirsutely handsome actor Michele Carboni is an original as the hermetic oddball cheesemaker and virgin.

    In fact, the only position Michele knows is sheep-style. But everything changes when he meets Solveig, a pretty French flier who arrives — deus ex machina style — in her plane, sporting a Snoopy flying-ace cap and scandalous short shorts. Before you can say Vittorio Gassman, the two embark on an idyllic, if doomed, summer romance.

    Autumn follows hard upon by returning Sister Francesca (Yael Abecassis) from her convent to the village of her birth for her sister's wedding. Naturally, most of the others we've met also show up as relatives and wedding guests. Francesca is thrust back into a way of life for which she is no more ready than Michele was.

    A torrential downpour — an unwelcome "act of God" — threatens to ruin the event, but cooler heads prevail and the eponymous dance of the title draws everyone into rapturous abandon across the muddy wedding site.

    The final Winter's tale concerns Giorgio (Giampaolo Loddo), an old man from the wedding who lives alone in a city, far away from the village. He has one of those wizened faces found only on old Italian men in Rossellini films — which doesn't keep him from his regular weekly "date" with a prostitute (Rosella Bergo).

    The denouement of this final vignette is Mereu at his most Fellini — esque. The date consists in large part of sharing a pair of pj's and an accordion rendition of "Cielito Lindo," followed by an "Amarcord"-type parade of everyone else in the film. By then, we realize again why the New Director/New Films Series is so important. Because every now and then it discovers a Mereu!

    APRIL 5, 2004

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