Once again, it’s centred on an eminently dislikeable protagonist: 70-year-old Geremia de Geremei (Giacomo Rizzo), a physically repulsive small-town tailor and moneylender who still lives with his likewise grotesque mother, and whose profound avarice and repeated but wholly bogus claims to generosity are matched only by his ill-concealed lechery towards any young woman who crosses his path. Vignette by visually striking vignette, the film chronicles the deepening of Geremia’s understandably unrequited obsession with Rosalba (Laura Chiatti), the beauty-queen daughter of two of his client-victims , who have foolishly borrowed money for her imminent wedding – unrequited, that is, until he decides to move in once more for the kill… And it’s then that Sorrentino makes us pause awhile to remember that this lust-and-lucre-driven monster, who seems to have just one friend – well, a fishing partner, actually – in the unlikely form of would-be cowboy Gino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), might be deserving of a little human sympathy.
Not unlike the Coens, Sorrentino creates a convincingly surreal world by having his ’Scope camera observe people, places and events from an unusually skewed angle; like them, too, he flirts with bad taste and revels in ingenious plotting, colourful but deft characterisation, fast, funny dialogue and initially enigmatic tableaux. He also tends at times to pack rather more allusions, quotations and ideas into his dense narrative than we can reasonably be expected to keep up with on a first viewing. Nonetheless, it’s a compellingly strange variation on the Beauty and the Beast theme, which succeeds as a subtle, intriguing study of fear and desire, attraction and repulsion, power and need. And like ‘Consequences…’, even though it lacks that film’s unexpectedly affecting redemptive conclusion, it certainly rewards repeat viewings – evidence that all the surface style is properly wrapped around ideas of substance.