Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 06, 2008 4:07 pm 
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An 'existential' police procedural

This film set in a mountain valley, well received at Venice last year and feted in Italy, is a slow burner for sure. It's sometimes a little hard to tell if it still has a pulse. But it does move on well-oiled wheels. It develops its portrait of malaise with steely control. As in any good murder mystery, which is what this is, everybody has secrets to hide. Many are simply repressed. Others are depressed, angry, or impaired. Several are seriously ill. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the story is adopted from a Scandinavian source; the lago (lake) was originally a fjord, and the book was Karin Fossum’s bestseller mystery novel Don’t Look Back (apologies to Nicolas Roeg), which Sandro Petraglia adapted for the screen in collaboration with directorial debutant Molaioli.

Things start when little six-year-old Marta (Nicole Perrone), who has spent the night with her aunt, is sent off home, but on her way is talked into mounting the van of somebody she knows (in this town, everybody knows everybody else), and her safe trip home is derailed. Later, Marta’s mother (Maria Sole Mansutti) frantic with worry, and a search that extends beyond the town is begun. The culprit is Mario (Franco Ravera), who’s crazy. Harmless, some say. Till he's not, says another.

Though this may seem more a study of provincial angst than a police procedural, the most angst-ridden and the center of the story is a former homicide cop, Inspector Sanzio (well played by noted director and theater man Toni Servillo). He’s newly arrived in these parts (Carnia, in the Friuli), but his instincts were immediately awakened by Marta’s disappearance. Than Anna Nadal (Alessia Piovan) is found dead by the side of the lake, arranged in a peaceful position and with a coat over her naked body.

Anna has a father, Davide Nadal (Marco Baliani), who loved her excessively; his videos of her have an almost voyeuristic quality. The father of Mario (Omero Antonutti), hated Anna because she had thin legs, and he saw her often running up in the mountains. She was a gifted hockey player, but has recently quit and only runs. The autopsy reveals surprising things about Anna. She has a boyfriend, Alfredo (Nello Mascia), who goes into a funk and stops reporting to work. He’s found trying to erase Anna’s CD-Roms and with other incriminating evidence. There’s another man who says Anna had a crush on him. Meanwhile we get to know the stony-faced but technically impeccable Inspector Sanzio further. His wife is (Anna Bonaiuto) elsewhere and he is hiding secrets about her from his daughter Francesca (Giulia Michelini), which whom he has an uneasy relationship

This may seem revealing too much, but when we know this, we still know little; the essential information is yet to come along with the confession of the murderer. That scene is a little too collegial and flat for anyone with a taste for noir. But this is never noir (black); it’s gray, gray and misty. And in this “existential” approach to murder—though this is hardly new—it’s not so important Whodunit as what’s motivating everyone, and how much lies hidden in a seemingly quiet, well-behaved town, the turbulence below the placid surface of the lake.

Andrea Molaioli has worked with directors Nanni Moretti, Carlo Mazzacurati, and Daniele Lucchetti. The Girl by the Lake/La ragazza del lago swept the Italian Oscars with ten Davide di Donatello awards including Best Film, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Actor (Servillo) and Best Screenplay. Shown at the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center June 2008.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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