“The world of cinema is in mourning,” reports a newscaster about a filmmaker’s demise in The Wedding Director, former enfant terrible Marco Bellocchio’s latest in an eclectic four-decade career. Like the work of many directors approaching their golden years, Bellocchio’s film about film is explicitly haunted by death: a man calls his daughter’s wedding a funeral, a casting room is dubbed “the crematorium,” and characters repeatedly state that “In Italy, it is the dead who command.” The elegy’s title artist is Sergio Castellitto as an in-demand maestro. Escaping to Sicily, the director gets roped into staging and filming the Prince of Gravina’s daughter’s wedding. The prince, played with evil gusto by Sami Frey, has arranged the marriage to save his family’s fortune; Castellitto and Donatella Finocchiaro’s princess ruin the plan by falling in love.
Simultaneously dreamlike and sober, The Wedding Director aims for the goofily anarchistic — with intrusive melodramatic music, references to Entr’acte and an ending that plays like an art film’s ambiguous recreation of The Graduate — as well as the richly ambitious, as Bellocchio juggles cinematic, voyeuristic, existential, religious and romantic themes, and employs a multitude of shooting formats. For a film confronting mortality, it’s an astonishingly exuberant expression of the will to live.