Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 02, 2012 9:41 am 
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Rock craziness revisited

"They' were always [coarse] like that," says rock journalist Ludovico (Corrado Fortuna), watching an old interview with "I Pluto," a forgotten provincial rock band from the Nineties he adores and wants to resuscitate for an article. "But another thing strikes me," he tells his associate (Francesco Di Gesù). "How fragile they are. At 20 they were cocky wise-asses, bursting with energy....And now you see them, with no purpose in life. Doesn't it break your heart?" This is a serious and truthful moment in what is mostly a very wild and funny ride. I più grandi di tutti is a more unified and successful film than Virzì's chaotic family saga The Most Beautiful Thing (NIC 2010). The theme of an aging rock band taking a trip down memory lane and attempting a reunion is a familiar one. But Virzì has adopted a light touch and brought something fresh, with help from a good cast.

Despite Ludovico's lament, the four he brings back together are still pretty energetic -- in their way. Indeed so is Ludovico, which is surprising, since he is paraplegic.

Ludovico, whose devoted and very wealthy mother (Catherine Spaak) knows how much I Pluto mean to her son and so funds his project lavishly, first locates Loris (Alessandro Roja), the band's drummer, whose brain is pot-blasted, even today. He lives in Livorno (Virzì's home town) in a nice apartment with his wife Simona (Claudia Potenza), the apparent breadwinner, and young son, whom he takes to elementary school. Loris gets a letter from Ludovico and when he sees him, receives a set of checks for a thousand euros each. This leads him to take Ludovico's interest very seriously indeed and track down Maurizio (Marco Cocci, Alberto in Muccino's The Last Kiss), known as Mao, the bad-boy lead singer, who works as barman at a punk rock club, and has not grown up one little bit. They go looking for Sabrina (Claudia Pandolfi), who resists at first. But her facade of respectability drops once she sees old flame Mao again and she hops into the van with them ready to go back to her wild ways.

The only decent musician in the group, lead guitarist Rino (Dario Kappa Cappanera), now a factory worker who's been taking care of his father, is most resistant to having anything to do with a band reunion, but he too relents when there's a work stoppage. They're all tempted by the glory days, however illusory the image of that glory may be. Trouble is, Ludovico's magazine dumps the project in favor of some newer bands. The reunion concert he envisions hits a dead end: no manager will schedule one. But with his mother's funding, he creates a fake concert for them at Cinecittà, hiding from them that it's all a fabtication. This comes across as a touching gesture.

There are flashbacks to the Nineties, including band antics and the time when Ludovico was disabled in a tragic car accident while rushing to a Pluto concert, but these are handled with a very light touch and despite the nostalgia element, the emphasis is on the present. Focus is nicely balanced among the band members and Ludovico; dialgoue is funny and follows a sure rhythm. Jump cuts between sequences are subtly handled. Among the strongest moments is the scene when the group visits Ludovico at his mother's palatial house and enters his room, a shrine to their band, for a filmed interview. The irony is that Ludovico knows more about "I Pluto" than they do, and seems to remember their wildest moments better. Mao remembers something, but Loris is a complete blank. They don't even know what the band's name came from, or what it means. This too is curiously touching: the evanescence of memory, the swiftness of time. "Quant'è bella giovanezza/che si fugge tuttavia!" So wrote Lorenzo The Magnificent.

The concert sequences are very well handled, and so is the bittersweet reunion and the deception behind the final concert. The whole film is fun and flows nicely, and despite the ostensibly familiar material, is full of little surprises. It's a whole; it may not be profound, but it captures a moment one can hold and ponder.

To contribute a sense of rock history context, the closing credits include inset clips of real musicians, I Tre Allegri Ragazzi Morti, I Baustelle, Irene Grandi, i Litfiba, and Vasco Rossi, giving their (mostly negative) "memories" of I Pluto.

I più grandi di tutti debuted at Turin in December 2011 and was reviewed there by Jay Weissberg for Variety. The Italian theater release was April 6, 2012. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series Nov. 11-18, 2012. Two San Francisco screenings were scheduled, for Nov. 13 at 6:15 pm and Nov. 16 at 9:15, both at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema.

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