FAMILIES. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are enviable, others abhorrent. Some are close-knit, some are fragmented and estranged. Most families are typical and predictable. Then there are others, like the Lucca family in the British film "Queen of Hearts." The film is rated PG, and opens today in the North Park Theater.
"Queen of Hearts" tells of Danilo and Rosa, young lovers who fled Italy after Rosa spurned her intended, Barbariccia. They traveled to London with Rosa's unsmiling mother, Mama Sibilla, married and had four children. Their story is told here by their youngest child, Eddie.
Eddie's recollections are those of a young child, about 10 years old. In retrospect his family tale is uneven, even one-sided, and tragedies and setbacks read like high adventure.
To Eddie, mother Rosa is lovely, loving and patient, with nary a cross word. His father, who spends his days in the Lucky Cafe sipping wine or cappuccino and playing cards, is strict with the eldest son, Bruno, but always gentle and attentive with Eddie. Eddie remembers vividly his parents' love for one another, and credits that love with saving the family when it is dealt a bit of bad luck.
There are several others in Eddie's life, including his grandmother, Mama Sibilla, who complains about Danilo to the priest in her weekly confessions; his grandfather, Nonno, who speaks only Italian and is a terrible gambler; his older brother, Bruno, who is forever at odds with Danilo; his best friend, Beetle, an electronics wizard; and his sisters, Teresa and Angelica, who are largely faceless.
"Queen of Hearts" is a lovely, warm and entertaining film. The screenplay by Tony Grisoni has passion, drama and a good deal of humor, played out by some very rich and colorful characters who border on the eccentric.
It has wonderfully funny scenes, especially Danilo's vision -- a talking pig head -- and Angelica's wedding photo session. There also is a remarkably pleasant deathbed scene.
The tale becomes implausible about halfway through, as dream sequences are interspersed with dreamlike action, but such are the memories of a 10-year-old. As Eddie sees it, the family hits the skids about the same time that the cappuccino machine is repossessed. First it's the cappuccino, then Bruno, Nonno, the cafe and, finally, the wedding contract. All for a good cup of coffee.
Director Jon Amiel carefully combines so many eccentrics and so many episodes into one family, one tale. His cast of relative unknowns is first-rate.
Italian actress Anita Zagaria and British actor Joseph Long are charming as Rosa and Danilo. Veteran British actress Eileen Way plays the cross-looking Mama Sibilla; veteran Italian actor Vittorio Duse is the babbling Nonno, and Italian actor Vittorio Amandola is the spurned Barbariccia. Stefano Spagnoli is excellent as Eddie.
If there is any fault with the story, it is that it is too one-sided. The characters are rich with potential but are never fully developed. Danilo, for instance, is obviously not a bad man in Eddie's eyes. But we can see he's clearly not a very good one, either. The women, aside from Rosa, are largely one-dimensional. Mama Sibilla is simply cross; sisters Angelica and Teresa have no distinction other than marital status.
The Lucca family story is moving and funny, but it's just a story. It leaves you wishing you had known them better. Nevertheless, it's a lovely, pleasant film.