Alessandro Genovesi's comedy-fantasy "Ma che bella sorpresa" [Eng. Title: What a Lovely Surprise!] is one among the many escapist fantasies frequently aimed at a mainstream audience, but for what it is worth, the film does it well.
Set in Naples, the film starts with Guido (Claudio Bisio), a forty-something school teacher, returning home to find his girlfriend Anna (Anna Ammirati) packing up her bags to leave him for a Belgian sailor. Guido shuts himself from the world and settles for quiet evenings at home in the hope of overcoming his grief. One evening, a pretty young woman half his age knocks at his door and introduces herself as Silvia (Chiara Baschetti), his newly moved-in neighbour.
An excuse for borrowing sugar for tea quickly turns into an improvised dinner-date between the two, followed by sex, and before long, Guido had fallen head-over-heels in love with Silvia. All's fine and dandy for a while between the couple, and Giada (Valentina Lodovini), a widow living next door with a penchant for eavesdropping on him, listens worriedly to the all-too-frequent sounds of passion coming from Guido's apartment. After all, she fancies Guido too.
There's however a problem in the couple's relationship, in that no one apart from Guido could actually see or hear the undoubtedly charming Silvia, quite possibly because she's just a figment (albeit a wholesome and attractive one) of Guido's imagination. Once he realises that, he wastes little time in 'breaking up' with Silvia, which Giada next door also overhears, and sensing an opening, makes her presence felt to Guido.
But Silvia wouldn't let go and keeps appearing in Guido's path whenever 'she' wished, even after becoming aware that he had now hooked up with another woman. Giada, who can't see Silvia either, nevertheless makes it clear to Guido that she wouldn't want to be in a three-way relationship even if her rival's claim over him are at best, illusory. She leaves Guido momentarily, allowing him to make that 'difficult' choice...
I doubt if the film has pretensions (or grand illusions) of being anything other than escapist entertainment - it is not really a commentary on modern relationships or the mid-life crisis, and that's a relief. There are mild comedic moments in the film however, but not as much as to bring the house down. Newcomer Chiara Baschetti doesn't disappoint, and Valentina Lodovini - the reason for me picking up the film, is rather underused. Claudio Bisio's gentle comedy doesn't succeed all the time, but it is not all doom and gloom either - some of the best scenes are those capturing life and colour from the off-the-tourist-trail streets of Naples. One wishes there were more of these though.
Amazon DVD Link [PAL]
The Nudity: Chiara Baschetti and Valentina Lodovini
Two brief scenes feature topless nudity from the main female characters.