Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 17, 2011 12:20 pm 
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NICE is the acronym for the New Italian Cinema series presented by the San Francisco Film Society.


Getting away with working class graft

Italians are crooked and only care about money, is what several foreigners tell Roman construction worker Claudio in this engaging if somewhat slapdash and too easily resolved tale, whose indestructible protagonist is played by Elio Germano, the older brother in Luchetti's richer and more successful political family chronicle from 2007, My Brother Is an Only Child. Like that film this one is a vivid artifact of Italian life, this time of the present moment. Even more than before, Luchetti makes things too easy and breey; again he steeps the action in humor, warmth and the sound of Roman dialect.

The screenplay gets Claudio into a terrible mess and then in a rapid succession of spliced-together final scenes delivers him from it without a scratch. First his wife (Isabella Ragonese) dies giving birth to their third child. At the funeral, with everybody else -- but the cozy handheld camera used throughout focuses only on him --he screams out the raucous song he and his wife liked to sing between sex sessions, Vasco Rossi's "Anima fragile." But once that's out of the way the scrawny, smiley Claudio sheds barely a tear.

More a bother for Claudio than the loss of his wife but also a benefit is the foreigner at the building worksite, a Romanian, who he finds buried at the bottom of an elevator shaft. A watchman, the man died in a fall, and the boss hid the body because the site might have been shut down otherwise for employing illegal workers. Greedy, Claudio half-blackmails his boss Porcari (Giorgio Colangeli) into giving him a whole building project. But he has to borrow the money from his pimp-drug dealer neighbor Ari (Luca Zingaretti) and must hire illegal aliens as the workers. Their work is lousy. Ari's Senegalise ex-whore girlfriend takes care of Claudio's kids, including the two cute young boys and Vasco, the baby. Also in and out of the scenes is their controlling sister Loredana (Stefania Montorsi).

Meanwhile the dead Romanian's wife Gabriela (Alina Madalina Berzunteanu) and her son Andrei (Marius Ignat) turn up. Embarrassing? Not for Claudia. He fixes up Gabriela with his handsome loner brother Piero (Raoul Bova) and hires her incompetent chubby son on the construction site.

As the project goes from one disaster to another, the film cuts rapidly from scenes at work to domestic developments. We have to believe the hard-hearted Porcari's change of heart and the family members' chorus of "We are here," meaning they will always bail Claudio out, as somehow they do. Illegal money sifts in from all directions, a new crew is hired, of illegal but more expensive and more reliable emergency Italian workers, and, well, Claudio has a good cry and everybody's happy. Whether his idea that material success would make up for his kids the loss of their mother is a dumb one or just needs more successful hustling to come through is a question that is not dealt with. The film makes hasty social and political points at the cost of emotionally connecting with the audience.

The hasty, handheld and jump-cut resolution is ridiculous, but somehow this film's content is awfully Italian, not least the tricky deals and tax dodging, as well as the racism, the problems with foreigners, the illegal workers, and the loyalty of family. Though he's too shrill and manic here, and registers too few real emotions, Germano is a talented actor, and the other cast members are confident and appealing. The action, however rushed and too easily resolved, is thrown at us with energy and momentum. So that, in Italy's lackluster current movie scene, will have to do.

Our Life/La nostra vita was in competition at Cannes 2010 and Elio Germano shared the Best Actor prize for his performance in the film with Javier Bardem (for Biutiful). Screened for this review as a part of New Italian Cinema, a series presented by the San Francisco Film Society at the Embarcadero Cinemas, San Francisco, 13-20 November 2011. Our Life was the opening night film, starting off a mini-series of Luchetti films and shown at 6:30 9:30 November 13.

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