CATHERINE BISLEY samples the offerings at the 13th Italian Film Festival, touring centres until late November.

FILLED with (mainly) beautiful women and the odd handsome man, Manual of Love 2 taught me nothing of its professed subject. The film consists of four stories which segue together in glaringly fabricated coincidence. Threading through them all is the radio show from which the title derives; at the office of Manual of Love, everyone sits around smiling and nodding as the DJ muses over Eros. Manual of Love 2 suffers from too much self-congratulation.

Nicolas is wheel chair bound after a car accident. It’s his lucky day when Monica Bellucci turns up as his physiotherapist. Who wouldn’t learn to walk again with an incentive like that? (Incidentally, his legs aren’t the only things roused into action - one of the most comically bad sex scenes ever… low cut black dress, panty removal shot, six inch heels, impossible angle…). Story two tracks a husband and wife with fertility issues on the baby make. Hormone treatment causes problems and nerves get grated – a feeling that reaches beyond the world of the film. Story three, a gay couple prepare for their wedding, a homophobic father in law. And finally, an older man and a damaged younger woman, lots of sex, and some dreadful poetry.

There were comic moments, such as the suggestion of the Mona Lisa as stimulation when donating sperm, but overwhelmingly, Manual of Love 2 relied on characters that barely fleshed out their respective clichés. If something is going to be inane and emotionally gratuitous, I like good structure and solid genre.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. This year the festival has secured the Embassy Theatre as its Wellington venue (until October 29). In Auckland earlier this month, the festival moves through to Christchurch (Oct 22-Nov 5), Dunedin (Oct 29-Nov 12), Nelson (Nov 5-19), and finally Napier (Nov 12-26). Apnea, a thriller about a man in search of the true identity of his best friend who has died, is the first fictional feature of documentary maker Roberto Dordit. It explores the inhumane conditions illegal immigrant workers face in Italy. The Unknown Woman, judged best film at the 2007 European Film Awards, explores the life of Irena, a woman from Eastern Europe with a tormented past. Red as the Sky is a dramatisation of the remarkable life of Mirco Mencacci; loosing his sight in an accident as a child, Mencacci defied the difficulties and went on to become a renowned sound editor. And for those who love Italian style the documentary Forever Vespa film may excite.