L’arte della felicità (The Art of Happiness), an animated drama about a bitter, existential taxi driver with familial abandonment issues in urban Naples, debuted recently at the Venice Film Festival’s International Film Critics Week section.

The film is a 2D/3D hybrid helmed by first-time feature director Alessandro Rak, a graduate of Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia Film School, and produced by Neapolitan studio Mad Entertainment, newly formed by producers Luciano Stella, Antonio Fresa and Luigi Scialdone. “Italy lags behind in the animation sector, especially in terms of being able to adapt to changing storytelling forms for new media,” Stella told Variety. “We are trying to change that.”

In a recent Q&A with the National Union of Italian Film Critics, director Rak reflected on the processes of resourcefulness and collaboration used during the production of L’arte della felicità: “We tried to realise this film with what and on what was available to us. We looked carefully. We have been lucky enough to collaborate with some talented artists belonging to the new Neapolitan music scene. We can say that this film is also their film, if they are happy with it.”

Reviews for the film have been reserved but hopeful, as typified by Deborah Young’s comments in the Hollywood Reporter:

“…this first feature is promising but stuffed with a little too much to finally click, and an noxiously loud, ever-present music track adds to the confusion. In Italy, young adult audiences will most easily latch on to its crudely expressed but ultimately uplifting message, and the same qualities may entice adventurous offshore buyers.”

The most positive sentiments come from David Ollerton in the London Film Review, whose review also points out how different this is from conventional feature-animation fare:

“The film moves backwards and forwards in time in a whimsical and playful manner as Sergio drives through the city. There is no big drama here, no huge crisis, no hero overcoming an obvious obstacle or struggle. Instead we are presented with a beautiful looking and sophisticated story combining philosophy, memories, love, music and politics all in one easy-going narrative.”

In October, the film will open in Italy through the distributor Luce Cinecittà Institute. Paris-based sales and acquisitions company Elle driver has picked up all international rights so perhaps audiences worldwide will soon have an opportunity to judge for themselves.