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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here are two names I never expected to say in the same sentence: Woody Allen and Sylvia Poggioli. Allen is the filmmaker who has lately made movies in Europe, and whose movie "To Rome with Love" opens today in Italy. Poggioli, of course, is our correspondent who reports that Italian critics do not seem to love what they see.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: "To Rome with Love" is a beautiful postcard of the eternal city, a carefree romp along cobblestone streets nestled between ancient ruins and Renaissance palaces. A soft, yellow glow pervades every scene. The movie projects the image of the sweet life, with all the charms under the Italian sun. And it's all accompanied to the tune of old standbys.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VOLARE")

DEAN MARTIN: (Singing) Volare, oh, cantare.

POGGIOLI: Woody Allen has said he grew up watching Italian cinema and was influenced by its grand masters. While there's nothing neorealist in his latest movie, it does echo of Fellini's "The White Sheik," and Penelope Cruz calls to mind Sofia Loren's high-end call girl in Vittorio de Sica's "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow."

The movie is made up of four separate vignettes about love swaps, mistaken identities, the cult of celebrity, and one with Woody Allen himself playing a retired, neurotic opera director who tries to make a star out of a man who can sing Pavarotti-quality opera, but only inside his shower.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TO ROME WITH LOVE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in Italian)

POGGIOLI: In another episode, Alec Baldwin plays a famous architect vacationing in Rome. He's reminiscing about his youth in the city when he meets a young American student, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who's love-struck by Ellen Page, playing a narcissistic young actress.

Italy's Oscar-winning comedian Roberto Benigni plays a Mr. Nobody who suddenly and mysteriously becomes a celebrity. He's hounded by paparazzi and TV film crews and courted by glamorous women. Just as suddenly, he returns to being Mr. Nobody, but seems deranged by his loss of visibility. It's a reference, perhaps, to the power of television in the country where a media tycoon like Silvio Berlusconi can become prime minister.

But the movie did not impress Italian critics. Woody Allen is a cult figure here, but reviews of "To Rome with Love" were lukewarm, nowhere near the charm, critics said, of last year's "Midnight in Paris." Many critics said the movie is superficial, banal and full of stereotypes and lacks the irony and scathing satire present in most Italian postwar cinema.

Several complained that Allen's Rome is the one foreigners have in their mind's eye, even before setting foot here. And it's a vision filtered through the prism of the 1 percent. The characters lodge in grandiose, baroque-style rooms in five-star hotels and enjoy grand vistas from terraces the average Roman can only dream about.

Paolo d'Agostini of La Repubblica quipped: Can you imagine a Roman traffic cop living in an apartment overlooking the Spanish Steps?

"To Rome with Love" opens in the U.S. in June.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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