Open Roads is an all-too-brief survey of new Italian cinema presented annually by New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center. Now in it sixth year, the series offers a wide selection of films, most of which will never see distribution in the US; this year's festival runs from May 31 until June 9, and further details (including ticket information) can be found on the Open Roads website.
Quo Vadis, Baby? opens promisingly enough, with a female photographer spying on a trysting couple in a hotel room from a lofty perch in what appears to be a skyscraper in mid-construction. The woman mutters angrily at the far-away couple to position themselves better for her lens, and complains to herself about the freezing weather. She is Giorgia (Angela Baraldi), a private investigator who appears to make her living entirely from tracking down and exposing cheating spouses, and has successfully made herself invulnerable to the feelings of her often broken-hearted clients. That evening, a box of tapes arrives at Giorgia's flat, sent by a friend of Ada (Claudia Zanella), her late sister who shocked everyone by committing suicide sixteen years earlier. The tapes are revealed to be video diaries kept by Ada during the final year of her life, a year she spent living in Rome, pursing her dream of being an actress; with the aid of strong liquor and hand-rolled cigarettes, Giorgia immerses herself in them, and in her sister's secret life.
Despite that tantalizing opening, however, the movie dissolves into a mass of stereotypes and missed opportunities. Its clumsy plotting and even more awkward characterizations are surprising and, coming from director Gabriele Salvatores -- the man who gave us the gracious, charming Mediterraneo -- deeply disappointing.