Pietro (Elio Germano) is a 28-year-old aspiring actor, who works part-time at a bakery to make ends meet. Moving to Rome and into a new apartment, he is desperate to turn his dreams into a reality, confiding in his one and only friend in the city, his cousin Maria (Paola Minaccioni). As he struggles to land any roles, at home he faces problems of his own – as he starts to see ghosts living in his flat. The various – and completely harmless – supernatural beings are all former actors who went missing decades earlier when on tour – who need Pietro to help set them free. Though naturally confused and bewildered by these visions, the ghosts start to give Pietro invaluable acting pointers, as he befriends them all, evidently needing them as much as they need him.
Beginning as a light comedy/drama, when A Magnificent Haunting becomes fantastical you fully adhere to it, because Ozpetek ensures we’re already invested in Pietro’s story, while the fanciful set-up – complete with a comedic touch and spellbinding musical score – makes for an enthralling film that gives you a whimsical feeling before the ghosts even appear. Similarly to how Woody Allen managed with Midnight in Paris – also about a man who wants to make certain friends so much he begins to imagine them – we never quite know what to believe, as Ozpetek presents his film with such sincerity in his conviction, that we almost believe in these spiritual visitings ourselves. That’s also because we want Pietro to be happy so much, we’re willing to suspend our disbelief for his sake.
Bearing similarities to the likes Roberto Benigni – Germano is equipped with an inherent, infectious enthusiasm, as a character who is incredibly endearing and easy to like. You can’t not care for him, and considering this is a film that is spent – for the most part – within his own mind, it certainly helps that we rather like him. As a result you inhabit the world he inhabits, and therefore invest in the same characters he invests in. His reactions to the initial sightings are humorous too, as this flamboyant actor naturally dramatises everything, and his responses are elaborate and overstated. It’s equally as funny as we progress towards the latter stages too, when he is completely nonchalant and nonplussed about their existence, treating him as he would any other guests at his humble abode.
Though A Magnificent Haunting does get somewhat convoluted at the end, perhaps trying too hard to tie up all loose ends – herein lies a film that is bound to bring a smile to your face. Confidently directed by Ozpetek, there is a congenial atmosphere prevalent, complete with a poignancy beneath the surface, adding depth to this magical piece of cinema.