Pietro (Elio Germano) is an aspiring actor who has traveled to Rome to try his luck at auditioning for roles, though first he has to find a place to live. He stays with his cousin as he house hunts, until he alights on an old building which appears to suit him down to the ground, and though his cousin sees it as an awful place he is won over almost immediately, so before he knows it he has moved in and is settling down. Funding his dream with a job in a bakery where he's an expert at making croissants, he begins seeking employment as a thespian - but something in that house is making its presence felt.
Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek made a few ripples with his debut, Hamam: A Turkish Bath, and continued to build a fanbase over the next few years, but with A Magnificent Haunting, or Magnifica presenza if you were Italian-speaking, he went from the dramatic end of the scale to the lighter and frankly more flimsy. There were a collection of serious issues flirted with in this, such as the lead character's homosexuality or the echoes of Italy's fascist past in the Second World War, but for the most part the results tended to look like a more gentle and less raucous Italian version of British kids' sitcom Rentaghost.
Or at least the then-recent French comedy Poltergay, which had a similar conceit of a house packed with restless spirits. That was a lot funnier than this effort, as if Ozpetek hadn't quite got the hang of generating laughs for there was not much here that would raise so much as a small smile, however goodnatured it was overall. As the English language title suggests (the original translated simpy as Magnificent Presence) Pietro has a bunch of ghosts living in that house with him - well, not so much "living" as existing - and they have a poor grasp on what has been going on since they kicked the bucket back at the height of World War II. It's up to Pietro to work out what happened to them.
And possibly lay them to rest in the process, though one of them, a gentleman phantom, has another form of lay in mind, taking quite a shine to our hero and doing such things as watching him sleep in a completely not at all creepy stalker way. If you can stalk someone who lives in the same house as you do. Anyway, Pietro gets more than a few hints as to approaching his auditions which he has not been hitherto particularly adept at, except (here's the joke, everyone), the supernatural acting troupe he is now sharing his home with have somewhat outdated ideas about performing and after following their advice the production company tell him they will let him know as their expressions say that they think he's a weirdo and under no circumstances will they ever work with him.
But there are less daft parts of A Magnficent Haunting, and they include Pietro's struggle with his sexuality which does feature him taking home a transvestite he has found beaten by the roadside and fixing them up which gives rise to questions about tolerance in modern Italy, and also a more pressing matter for the spooks. Which is, what happened to them back during the war which caused them to die? There was one of their number who disappeared around that time, so maybe if Pietro can trace her, assuming she's still alive, they can get to the heart of the mystery, a conundrum which also throws up national guilt at the citizens' behaviour throughout those dark days. Or you would have thought so, but rather than build to a climax, Ozpetek simply allows his plot to dwindle, a giving the game away bug-squashing moment aside. With hardly any special effects, this was about as far from Ghostbusters as it was possible to get, but instead of finding a fresh spin on the material this dawdled to a shrug of a conclusion. Music by Pasquale Catalano.