Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 05, 2022 9:04 pm 
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Pif's new satire shows we are the victims of our own algorithms

Pierfrancesco Diliberto/PIf's 2013 satire was The Mafia Only Kills in Summer/La mafia uccide solo d'estate, a semi-autobiographical tale that depicted himself as a Forest Gump-like precocious youth who meets with real political reformers in his native Sicily. This time he has bigger fish to fry, taking on worldwide tech empires and the loss of individual freedom for everyone not at the top. It's not likely this treatment of the theme will play well outside Italy, however, because it's still true that Pif has a TV comedy-writer's fragmented sensibility, and once again his movie falls into two different halves. What is true also, though, is that he really makes you think hard about mega-corporate capitol exploitation of labor in a world where there is zero privacy, zero opportunity, and trade unions are only "a moment of nostalgia." And of course all business is done in English. Automated job instructions, delivered by hologram to Italians come blithely couched in heavily American-accented Italian.

Bitter stuff, this, and for a long time the suggestion that it's maybe supposed to be funny sticks in the craw. But Pif saves things - a bit, anyway - a little past midway by having the action turn into a love story, if perhaps a doomed one. There was that aspect to Orwell's 1984 too, wasn't there? And 1984 is a comparison that comes to mind.

The twist is that this is a superficially fluffy, appealing world of fantastic skinny mushroom buildings and quiet car-free transportation - and sometimes it's just Rome. It seems like a budget production until it appears the hero really does go to Mumbai, as the story requires. Now, the villain isn't Big Brother, an oppressive dictator in a grim, gray, totalitarian world like in Orwell's dystopian tale. The new ruler is technology, specifically algorithms, with smiling, folksy billionaire tech "geniuses" taking all the profits. And we give ourselves to them willingly, for a job or a bit of fun - in the Italian title, "we sat by like assholes and watched."

The everyman is Arturo (Fabio De Luigi), who is an executive for a corporation who creates an algorithm to achieve more efficiency. When it's employed, there's just one little problem: it makes Arturo too redundant. Enter FUUBER, whose inspiration is not hard to detect, Uber with a hint of Fuhrer. The creepy young American founder John Fuuber (Eamon Farren) sells inspiration, and behind it, total exploitation of its employees, who think they are serving a higher cause but are more like slaves. Jobless and penniless, the middle-aged Arturo becomes a delivery man on a bike enslaved to merciless algorithm time requirements and piddling rewards. He takes in a roommate to hold onto his apartment, Raffaello (Pif himself), a university professor of Romance Philology (Arturo's surprised they still exist) who must moonlight as an online "hater" for hire.

All kinds of hardships befall Arturo in his lousy job, as he continues with sad-sack persistence: Pif carries this part to where the "comedy" turns into a drag. A saving human strain arrives however with the idea of hologram "ideal friends." Both Arturo and Raffaello take free trials of these, though Arturo at least can't possibly afford to pay the 199-euro-per-week regular fee. He loves Stella (Ilenia Pastorelli), though: she's all that makes life worth living. Ironically, Rafaello's Ideal Friend, chosen by algorithm of course, is a man, Jean-Pierre (Maurizio Marchetti). The screenplay never delves into the possible implication that this means Raffaello is secretly gay; he just keeps turning off this Friend - till he too, starts to be dependent.

Thus for Arturo, after his job has gone to nothing and he is in deep financial shit, this turns into a love story. Stella turns out to be a real person, projected as a hologram from FUUBER's central headquarters in the giant FUUBER tower in Mumbai. To do Pif credit, though his movie changes course by turning into a conventional search for the lost lover, it never completely loses the original point because Pif's depiction of his perverse tech empire is now being pursued to its source. The suggestion that we are letting all this happen is not lost on us.

On Our Watch/E noi come stronzi rimanemmo a guardare, 108 mins., debuted at Rome Oct. 23, 2021 and opened theatrically in Italy Oct. 25. Screened for this review as part of the FLC-Cinecittà Jun. 9-15, 2022 series Open Roads: New American Cinema at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.

Friday, June 10 at 9:00pm (Q&A with Pif)

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