A tragedy-laced romance set among the glitterati on the Italian Riviera in the 1950s.
Hal Jacobs is an English journalist who has been scraping by in Rome after a soul-killing war experience and a broken engagement back home. A friend passes along his personal invitation to attend a fancy soiree given by a contessa looking to raise money for a film. When security at the party busts Hal’s cover, the hostess herself steps in. “Someone once told me,” she says, “that a party is only an event if there is at least one interesting gatecrasher in attendance.” Hal winds up having a rejuvenating one-night stand with a mystery woman named Stella, but she slips away without telling him her last name. Two years later, the contessa digs him up from obscurity; she offers him a princely sum to cover the premiere of The Sea Captain for a major Italian magazine. He will need to accompany the cast and other key players on a publicity cruise down the Ligurian coast to the opening at Cannes. On the yacht, he will at last find his Stella—now on the arm of her nasty American husband, the film’s major backer. Foley (The Book of Lost and Found, 2015) layers the ensuing drama with Stella’s tragic back story as well as the narrative on which the film is based, a tale found in the 16th-century journal of one of the contessa’s ancestors. He rescued a beautiful, mysterious, and badly bruised woman from the sea only to become obsessed with her. All this, plus a changing point of view, makes for a choppy ride.
Obsession, obsession everywhere, and a flute of spumante to drink. As in a movie from this period, melodrama and clichés are par for the course.