Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 9:40 pm 
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Searching out a blemish in a perfect world

"Professor Nari is an eminent university professor in Pisa slandered by a mysterious anonymous letter “accusing” him of making a banal error in an article about betrayal. Who could hate him so much as to denounce him publicly? In this masterfully shot drama, suspicion turns into obsession and not even his dalliance with the young Olivia can assuage his anxiety about the loyalty of the people who surround him. Nari’s wife Anna betrays him with a former student, while Professor Daverio—Nari’s departmental nemesis and rival for Anna’s love—appears a likely suspect. Once sure of Daverio’s “guilt,” Professor Nari grows increasingly uncertain of his attacker’s identity. The Invisible Player, Stefano Alpini’s riveting drama (and first narrative feature), is based on the novel of the same name by Giuseppe Pontiggia. Enhanced by Pisa’s beauty and a driving sound score, this taut narrative effectively demonstrates how an accusation can trap a man in the mystery of his own mind. Alpini’s film deliciously teeters between a detective story, a comic treatise on the neuroses of academics, and a tribute to Godard, whose work is a touchstone for Professor Nari (and probably for Alpini, too). Luca Lionello (Judas in The Passion of the Christ) is brilliant as a professor with an overactive imagination and an academic’s appreciation for nuance and departmental treachery."

So says the New Italian Cinema series blurb for this handsome film, he first feature by Stefano Alpini adapted by Paolo Serbandini and Giovanna Massimetti, from the novel by Giuseppe Pontiggia, gorgeously photographed (by Antonio De Rosa) and indeed with a striking, forceful score that's especially apt during sweeping aerial shots of the rigorously uniform and beautiful old center of Pisa. The images of the classic, unspoiled city remind me of the hotel employee in Rome who said to me many years ago (in Italian) "Isn't it true that Italy is the garden of the world, and Rome is the garden of Italy?" Pisa is one of the gardens of Italy too. Even the buses are special, large, square, posh-looking, of an orangish tone that somehow is superior. Nari (Luca Lionello) has a lovely life. The nice suits he wears! The literal palace he and his lovely wife live in! The men's outfits! The tastefulness of everything! I like that instead of calling people on his cell phone or emailing them, he goes around on bus or train to see them in person. For fans of Italian cinema, The Invisible Player is worth it. Director Stefano Alpini and his dp don't allow anything remotely ugly ever to enter the screen. This is an idealized version of the old Italy, which had no immigrants from the EU or outside it. Even the graffiti are few and handsome-looking, and one high, perfect wall is covered, surprisingly, but welcomely, by a masterpiece fy Keith Herring.

Luca Lionello has a kind of false swagger, with his swishy walk and his delicate little feet, his way of crossing his legs and folding over his hands, and his nice suits and handsome bushy hair and beard; he is like a miniaturized version of the artist and director Julian Schnabel without the wild creative edge. After a while, you begin to realize that he's just a colossal egotist, and that a larger man would have something better to do than this futile search to track down a personal slight. But, of course, this is a satire on academic insularity and academic self absorption. An enjoyable film, but strictly festival or limited art house stuff, and handsome to look at though it is, it ends none too soon.

The Invisible Player/Il giocatore invisibile, 98 mins., Salento Festival; won the Special Jury Prize at WorldFest-Houston. Screened for this review as part of the SFFF New Italian Cinema series, 16-20 Nov. 2016.

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