Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 9:29 pm 
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Childish parents, cruel children, bad vacation

Here's an up-to-date Italian movie for you: the two little boys at the summer campground listen to Jusin Bieber to drown out the fighting of their working class parents. If only the proceedings were otherwise more original. The kIds' doings are lively and well-filmed; it's their parents' constant fighting that is a drag and a bore. In the daytime, feisty young Nic (Armando Condolucci) and little brother Agostino (Marco D'Orazi) -- is his name an ironic reference to Moravia's early novella? -- play around a farmer's shack they've found with two girls who are of more middle class background and are Swiss-Italian, like the director. The girls stay in cabins with walls instead of a tent. There's also an Asian kid, Lee, (Francesco Huang) who admits during a truth-or-dare game that he's ashamed of his dad for not being able to speak Italian; but he's the local kid. (His chance to shine -- a memorable moment, one of the few -- is when he shows the bigger girl how to dance sexy. For a minute we're in a Wong Kar-wai movie, or something. ) The girls are from an Italian-speaking part of Switzerland and the boys are from Rome. If the title's a reference to the French classic Forbidden Games, then Nic and Agostino's parents' fighting takes the place of the real war of the Forties. It's a big comedown, and a bummer.

But it's not totally inaccurate. Anyone with some dysfunction in their family history (and this one is a continual train wreck) remembers vacations when a sense of abandonment, abuse, and trauma was heightened because everyone was supposed to be having fun. Summer Games captures that ache of good times being continually spoiled by emotional pain and games becoming twisted because of acting out.

Another problem, though: the young actors are appealing enough and the cinematography by Lorenz Mer sparkles, but this is the work of a committee, five writers, and the writing accordingly lacks distinction.The parents never emerge as original characters. Nobody does, except maybe Nic, whose coming of age gets a lot of static here no Justin Bieber song can block out. Nic seems to be unwillingly taking on the violence of the father he hates. Nic's would-be sweetheart is Marie (Fiorella Campanella), who has her own preoccupation -- a missing father whose absence her uptight mother (Roberta Fossile) can't bear to explain. Nic's capable of love but tends to express it more by by beatings and masochism than kisses. He does get his moments of closure (for Marie) and sweetness (with Marie) toward the end, though. The committee is kind enough to provide those, in a setting that recalls Antonioni's L'Avventura. We get all these tasteful, classy references. But unfortunately they're just reminders that this isn't that great a movie.

Probably this film was included in the San Francisco International Film Festival because it was the Swiss entry in the Oscar Best Foreign competition -- but the Switss rarely come up with a memorable film. It was shown before, starting in August 2011, at Venice and Locarno and a few other festivals, and opened in France (as Jeux d'été) in early February 2012, to poor press (Allociné 2.8, with few reviews).

Giochi d'estate plays in the SFIFF twice:

Mon, Apr 30 3:00 pm
Thu, May 3 7:30 pm

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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