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Pleasant, picturesque A Five Star Life tends to play it safe

by Mark Burger

Irene (Margherita Buy), the main character in Maria Sole Tognazzi’s award-winning comedy A Five Star Life, seems to have it all but wants more. Irene works as a hotel inspector, so much of her life is spent visiting the most opulent hotels throughout Europe, where she operates incognito as a “mystery guest” and files thorough reports on their service.

But the never-married Irene is having a hard time balancing work with friends and family. She’s close to her young nieces and still friendly with an old boyfriend (Stefano Accorsi) – who’s recently gotten his girlfriend pregnant – but she’s looking for something more substantive in life.

So, for that matter, is this film (originally titled Viaggo Sola), which ultimately opts for an easy exit due to Irene’s third-act encounter with Kate (Lesley Manville), a charismatic English anthropologist who manages to say all the right things and make all the correct observations. Manville, who exits the film almost as abruptly as she enters, is hardly to blame, as she gives an assured reading of her cameo role. But her character’s impact on Irene is so sudden and immediate that it tips the film into utterly conventional territory.

There are, however, compensations. Given Irene’s line of work, the filmmakers have been granted permission to film in some of the loveliest luxury hotels in Europe. Given the likelihood of how few of us will ever visit them, at least their beauty has been captured here for posterity. The film is also briskly paced, running under 90 minutes, and affords Buy a strong leading role. Visual splendor aside, she’s what holds A Five Star Life together. (In Italian with English subtitles)

A Five Star Life is scheduled to open Friday at a/perture cinema, Winston-Salem. !

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