Martino is too cute to be the Phantom of the Opera or the Hunchback of Notre Dame, so he hides out instead at the imposing Mole Antonelliana, site of Italy's National Museum of Cinema. There he works as a night watchman, looking down on the lights of Turin from his stylish domed lair.
Martino thinks he's able to approximate happiness by immersing himself in the museum's rich archive of classic films. He's wrong, of course, but it's one heck of a convenient setup for an homage to filmmaking.
Written and directed by Italian auteur Davide Ferrario (''Guardami," ''Children of Hannibal"), who's also a novelist and film critic, ''After Midnight" might be called the ''Cinema Paradiso" of Turin. Not that it's anywhere near as good as the must-see director's cut of ''Cinema Paradiso" -- in other words, skip ''After Midnight" if you couldn't stomach Giuseppe Tornatore's gooey nod to the silver screen -- but Ferrario has a similar reverence for movies and lacks no talent for manipulating their pull.
When it's not taking itself too seriously, ''After Midnight" (''Dopo Mezzanotte" in its native language) can be quite amusing and enjoyable to watch. It has that built-in trove of museum-quality film clips going for it (note that Ferrario has a particular fondness for Buster Keaton), and it features the dynamic presence of newcomer Francesca Inaudi, who could bring style to a truck pull.
Inaudi plays Amanda, a fast-food counter girl whose radiance even draws out the timid Martino (Giorgio Pasotti) for regular greasy noshes. Amanda has a handsome boyfriend called The Angel (Fabio Troiano), but he steals cars and cheats on her constantly. She also hates her job enough to eventually douse her boss in hot oil(!), which sends her running to the nearby Mole Antonelliana looking for an underlit place to hide out from the cops.
Enter Amanda into Martino's world, where he shows her his crank camera and she shows him a good time. Though the resulting romantic triangle strains credibility, each of the three actors has charm enough to carry it off, sometimes despite the pretentious narration of an anonymous off-screen presence (veteran actor Silvio Orlando).
Ferrario is great at making bold visual choices. What he's not so good at is giving the characters in this movie an inch of breathing room that isn't designed primarily to wink at some moviemaking convention just for the sake of bringing it into the picture. At its worst, ''After Midnight" feels like the work of a self-conscious storyteller who can't get through a sentence without laughing at his own jokes. Nowadays, movies are all ''fatal attractions and guns," carps the narrator, so this one aims to include everything else, turned smugly on its ear.
Even so, there's plenty here to delight cinephiles; the inside jokes are often clever, and many of us would take five seconds of wordless Keatonian genius over two hours of Vin Diesel any day of the week. Try to ignore the distractions (Ferrario even throws in the mathematical calculations of Fibonacci to make some elusive point) and just appreciate the creative declaration of love this film intends.
Janice Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.