Whilst at times intelligent, insightful and amusing, Manual of Love never quite captures the brilliance it suggests.
The central conceit is the use of four relationship vignettes, that complement the four sections of a popular self-help audio book entitled ‘Manuale d’amore’. These supposedly representative pieces depict infatuation and love, relationship staleness, infidelity and finally separation. Intertwining the storylines in the manner of Love Actually, Magnolia and so many European films, the characters interact and impact each other, and thankfully this never seems too contrived. (Although I always get a smile on my face when I see one character meet another from a different storyline, I just can’t help it…).
The first of the four is the most fun, depicting the lovestruck desperation of Tommaso for Giulia. His behaviour is instantly recognisable, and Silvio Muccino is excellent in bringing him to life. His beloved Giulia is also well played, with Jasmine Trinca offering just the right amount of bemusement, anxiety and fear, and, in the end, attraction. This is the strongest storyline, as the other three offer a mixture of success and failure that lets the start down.
The final ‘case study’ is diminished by a problem common in European comedy, and increasingly so in the English-speaking world of mirth as well – that of subjecting the protagonist to so many psychological and physical insults that we can’t help but split our sides laughing. Or not. For while many seem to find this style immensely entertaining, I’m afraid it leaves me cold, and films like Après vous…, for example, in which the hero is beset by all manner of obstacles, all of which are designed to amuse the audience only, really frustrate me. (To the point that, as Stuart mentions in his review, I was unable to watch much beyond the first twenty minutes of that film).
The soundtrack is upbeat and lively, and the direction is tight enough from Giovanni Veronesi, but the failure to capitalise on a very strong opening stanza sadly leaves Manual of Love lacking. There are scattered moments throughout that are worthwhile, and certainly there is insight into relationships to be found, but in the end everything works out for the best – which is, of course, how it happens in life too, isn’t it?Rating: