Both the title and the top billing of Robert de Niro and Monica Belluci are somewhat misleading in this three-part portmanteau film, comprising separate comic tales of love and lovers – all with a distinctly Italian flavour.
The first tale – called “Youth” – sees a young lawyer named Roberto (Riccardo Scamarcio) dispatched to the countryside to buy a property from a peasant family so the land can be redeveloped. Although he has a beautiful girlfriend back home, Roberto is struck by the arrow of love when he meets sexy and flamboyant Micol (Laura Chiatti) along with a collection of quirky small-town characters who he grows to like. The second tale is called “Maturity” and sees middle-aged television newsreader Fabio (Carlo Verdone) charmed by another eccentric woman (Donatella Finocchiaro), who claims to be a psychiatrist but who seems intent on getting him to role play in bed. The final story – “Beyond” – sees an American professor Adrian (De Niro) fall for Viola (Belluci), the daughter of his friend and neighbour. It’s the strongest of the three films, thanks to Belluci’s performance and the existence of a female character that is more than just a fantasy object.
Director Giovanni Veronesi has now made three of these multi-narrative films about love (a more direct translation of the title of this film would be “The Manual of Love 3”), and he keeps proceedings light and frothy, often allowing the cast to overplay their characters into farce and slapstick. The second story suffers from this the most, with Verdone unconvincingly hamming up his role for cheap laughs. The first story has charm and surprise despite the thin female characterisations, and the final episode belongs to Belluci, who carries a rather inconsistent De Niro through the gentle and touching romance. Whilst De Niro manages some poignant moments of tenderness, he is far from his best form, and his voice-over work is particularly lacklustre.
Overall it’s a pleasant and easily forgettable couple of hours in the company of some beautiful people, their quirky antics under the spell of love, and some stunning Italian scenery.