Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat May 29, 2021 1:31 pm 
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Another accomplished, original, and more disturbing film from the D'Innocenzo twins

This is the sophomore effort of the brothers who made 2018's attention-getting debut Boys Cry (New Italian Cinema, San Francisco). Likewise focused on unsavory residents of suburban Rome, this shows the same ability to be riveting but seems darker, narratively more complex - and somehow less Italian, with some admitted American influence even in the spread out houses. Boys Cry was snappy if somewhat superficial. Its narrative of two young men who become low level mafia functionaries by accident and get into deep shit had the elegance and cohesion of a cautionary tale. Not so this time. No question the D'Innocenzo twins, who spent their youth painting, taking photographs, and writing poems on Rome's outskirts, have a natural flair for moviemaking and an outlook that stands out in Italy's bland current cinematic scene. Favolacce won the screenplay award at Berlin.

The Italian title suggests fantasies or inventions, tales either nasty or badly told. A frame voiceover passage describes finding a chlld's diary with blank pages and suggests this film is an invention to fill them. Here the focus remains on two young males but shifts from twenty-ish to two boys in their early teens, both of whom have sort-of girlfriends. References to sex are so explicit I thought of Larry Clark, though this is worlds away from Clark's genuine, if questionable, love of boys and fascination with sex acts, which we don't actually see here.

A contrast between the boys is effortlessly achieved by their looks and affect. One boy, Dennis (Tommaso Di Cola) is handsome, with classic Mediterranean looks and wavy dark locks. An easygoing, pleasant boy despite his troubled dad, Dennis is depicted as getting perfect grades in school (we're in summertime now), though when he and his sister recite their report cards (she has one subject, comportment, a notch below perfect), their nasty dad is chillingly unsupportive. This dad is evil, and we will see a lot of him.

The contrasting boy is tall, skinny Geremia (Justin Korovkin), a pallid sad sack who's adored by his father, Amelio (Gabriel Montesi) though the relation is complicated because the dad is impecunious and the boy is so silent and withdrawn. A strange interlude comes when Susanna brings Viola to get together with Geremia when he has measles, hoping he will infect her and get measles out of the way for her, while Amelio hopes this will get Geremia laid.

But there is far worse than this abroad, and danger, through a twisted science teacher who likes to inform the kids on ways to cause mayhem. Two homemade bombs result, found on two boys' bedroom desks. When told he's fired, the prof is allowed to give a final lecture in which he recommends malathion as a widely available, singularly lethal poison.

The powerful Elio Germano plays Bruno, married to Dalila (Barbara Chichiarelli). Bruno is an explosively unhappy man unable to accept the emotional closeness of his two smart children, Dennis and Alessia (Giulietta Rebeggiani) and is so ticked off when his neighbors enjoy the portable swimming pool he buys, he slashes it and claims it was gypsies.

Less well-off neighbors of Bruno are Pietro (Max Malatesta) and Susanna (Cristina Pellegrino), angered when they must remove their daughter Viola (Giulia Melillo) from Bruno's pool because she has head lice.

My favorite scene is the one in which Dennis and his girlfriend try to have their first sex out in the sunshine one day, with great politeness, he stripping down to his immaculate jockey shorts, she turning sweetly toward him, and then he, equally gracefully, aborts. It's such a relief, and a rare amusing moment. But Dennis may be more preoccupied with the louche, vulgar young pregnant woman, Vilma (Ileana D’Ambra who comes on to him early on and keeps reappearing, like an overripe peach rotting in the sweltering heat.

The movement, however, is toward disaster, not sentimental education.

While the Variety critic thought of Todd Solondz, Peter Bradshaw was reminded by events and the very hot weather of Ulrich Seidl’s Dog Days, which his original review described as a "fly-on-the-wall depiction of a horrible personal hell." Italian movies have often been upbeat, funny, or restrained, though the dark side has been around since postwar neorealism, and evil took center stage with Matteo Garrone's work, especially Gomorrah.
Garrone has pursued darkness since his 2002 The Embalmer. He's been a one-man nightmare factory. But now he has company.

"A far-out, black-as-coal vision of life in Rome’s suburbs," wrote Deborah Young in her Hollywood Reporter[/I> review following the film's warm reception at the Berlinale, saying the brothers "reach another level of maturity" here and noting they collaborated on the writing of Garrone's [I]Dogman (no surprise this alliance). Bradshaw is enthusiastic, calling Bad Tales a "breakthrough," "visceral," and "superbly shot." (Again as in their first film the brothers make striking use of long-distance, or extreme-middle distance shots, with some extreme closeups seemingly to make adults look repulsive.) The Variety critic was plainly very turned off, calling the film "grim," "superficially stylish," and "grotesque." I would not be so condemnatory, but despite all the accolades for this film, I'm not sure the D'Innocenzos have yet found their way, or located a dark side of Roman suburbia that is authentically Italian.

Bad Tales/Favolacce, 98 mins., debuted at the February 2020 Berlinale, winning best screenplay award; it was showered with awards and nominations at the Italian Davide di Donatello awards, and showed at at least 18 international festivals, mostly in 2020, some in 2021, receiving numerous nominations and awards. Reviewed online for this review as part of the LiLincoln Center Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series, May 28-June 6, 2021.

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