-By David Noh

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It's always salutary to see an actress really come into her own, and that is exactly what happens with Penelope Cruz in Sergio Castellitto's Don't Move. As Italia, an impoverished, beaten-down cleaning woman who becomes involved with Timo (Castellitto), a married man, she has the initial, rough sensuality of Sophia Loren in her earliest films. But, on their first encounter, when Timo brutally rapes her, the uncanny impassiveness with which she endures his thrusts gives her an exalted, almost beatific look. Then, when the drama escalates, as Timo lies to her about leaving his pregnant wife Elsa (Claudia Gerini), the breathless fury and outrage emanating from her recall Anna Magnani. And finally, with the full acceptance of her fate and Timo's enduring, if troublous, love for her, Cruz's tiny, carved face takes on the transcendent, starry-eyed, pure humanity of her countrywoman, the great, recently deceased opera singer Victoria de Los Angeles.

Cruz's performance, however, is but one of a trio of beautifully limned portrayals in what may be the greatest male soap opera ever put on film. (I'd call it a man's film, as in woman's film-i.e., rife with the emotionalism of passion and its price-but there are no guns or macho posturing here.) For all of her bitchiness and selfish ways, it is impossible to despise Elsa, as Gerini makes her utterly real, admirably refusing to soften the character and winning our undeniable respect along the way. Castellitto is also magnificent, creating a full-scale portrait of a man, bored with bourgeois routine and the "perfect" wife, that also happens to be one of the truest depictions of a doctor in all cinema. That rape scene is deeply troubling, and yet it is a credit to Castellitto's acting and direction that one is able to overcome the repugnance this act engenders, and ultimately find an empathic identification with Timo as protagonist. His easygoing, indulgent chemistry with his teenage daughter Angela (Elena Perino, ingratiatingly spunky), whose tragic accident sets the whole film in motion, and conflicted relations with materially minded Elsa ring very true. And the full-blooded, anguished passion which floods out of him in the film's climactic scenes easily matches that of Cruz.

The film has a good novel's richness, as if Castellitto poured an entire life's experience into it. His plot has enough incident, wry twists and surreal moments to rival Almodóvar, but where Almodóvar's histrionic fervor sometimes gets in the way of the soulfulness he always seems to be striving for, Castellitto rarely hits a false note. There are impressive cinematic asides, like his exquisitely observed friendship with a fellow doctor pal, and the judo classes he forces Angela to take, which speak worlds about his own misguidedly macho desires for his daughter, as well as her understandable recalcitrance. Gianfilippo Corticelli's photography is gorgeously apt in all ways, capturing the sweaty grottiness of Italia's world, as well as the pristinely cozy but sterile perfection of Elsa's. And the soundtrack, laced with keeningly romantic Italian pop songs, adds to the effulgent texture of Castellitto's profoundly humane vision.

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