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Originally published Friday, March 18, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Confusing "Camel" can't quite get over the hump

Poor little rich Federica (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) has a guilty conscience. Her wealthy father (Roberto Herlitzka), who moved his family...

Special to The Seattle Times

Poor little rich Federica (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) has a guilty conscience.

Her wealthy father (Roberto Herlitzka), who moved his family from their native Italy to France to avoid kidnappers, has given her oodles of money all her life. Federica has had no need to work, nor a reason to do anything except pursue her passions and improve her mind and body.

Her sister Bianca (Chiara Mastroianni) and brother Aurelio (Lambert Wilson) have been similarly privileged. It all sounds quite enviable, but there are a few problems for these characters in "It's Easier for a Camel," co-written and directed by busy, often luminous Italian-French actress Tedeschi ("Nenette and Boni").

Movie review 2.5 stars

"It's Easier for a Camel," with Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Roberto Herlitzka, Chiara Mastroianni, Lambert Wilson, Denis Podalydes, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Pascal Bongard. Directed by Tedeschi, from a screenplay by Tedeschi, Agnes de Sacy and Noemie Lvovsky. 116 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (includes adult themes). In French and Italian with English subtitles. Grand Illusion.

In her mid-30s, feckless Federica is drifting through life, writing mediocre plays, looking ridiculous in a bad ballet class and rekindling an affair with a married man (Denis Podalydes) while dating a history professor (Jean-Hugues Anglade) who despises her leisure-class meandering. Lying to strangers about her nowhere existence, immersing herself in a childlike fantasy world and craving absolution from an overwhelmed priest (Pascal Bongard) for her unearned fortune, Federica is desperate for focus and direction.

Bianca, meanwhile, is consumed with therapy issues involving family secrets and sometimes forbidding parents. Aurelio travels constantly with a succession of girlfriends and seems adrift and unhappy.

The family patriarch's terminal illness brings everyone together, but Tedeschi isn't interested in collective soul-baring during a deathbed vigil. She's having too good a time comically and dramatically exploring what happens to the human spirit in the absence of drive and purpose.

Federica may be spoiled, but one can sympathize with her gnawing emptiness. When she wilts under the glare of an accountant who doesn't understand why Federica can't get it together to spend money on philanthropic endeavors, it's easy to be moved by her helplessness.

Tedeschi's unvarnished take on Federica is lovingly complex, but her story construction — blurring fact and fantasy and mixing scenes from different time periods — is confusing and wearying. She makes up for that somewhat in the film's final scene, an absurdist nightmare worthy of Fellini that underscores the indignity of death — complete with decadent laughter.

Tom Keogh:

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