This latest venture from Cinema Paradiso helmer Tornatore once again takes the seductive power of the cinema as its subject. But The Starmaker offers an altogether harsher, more subdued (and less immediately accessible) flipside by putting a bittersweet slant on the attraction of fame.
In 1953, travelling filmmaker Joe Morelli (Castellitto) visits a sleepy peasant village and announces he is on a nationwide search for "new faces in the movies". After initial reticence the townspeople soon line up hoping to become the next big thing. Charging 1500 Lire per audition, Joe is, of course, a complete charlatan running used film through his camera and reaping the profits, and so his odyssey continues across Sicily until he runs into the beautiful Beata (Lodato), who stirs his conscience and feelings, and the redemptive power-of-love scenario is given an unexpected, harrowing spin.
Yet the real stars of the film are provided by the manifold screen tests which are by turns funny and poignant - the sense of deprived villages becoming starstruck is beautifully evoked. Furthermore the locales will surely inspire wanderlust and the whole thing is enticingly embroidered by a haunting Morricone score.
On the downside, the use of vignettes becomes overly episodic and meandering, and Tornatore occasionally labours to make points about Sicilian history that are a tad obscure. But quibbles aside, this is still brimming with enough quirky character turns, unforeseen twists, telling moments and filmmaking skill to ensure a stimulating diversion.