Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 5:32 pm 
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Style outliving ideas

Andò’s new film would seem like the most awkward and pretentious filmmaking, if it didn’t have a sensuous quality growing out of lovely cinematography and well-used music that blend beautifully and draw you in. The cheat is that ultimately the elegant style can’t hide that this is far-fetched melodrama—based on a novel in English set in Ireland—posing as deep psychological inquiry. Secret Journey (Viaggio segreto) has the elegant spaces and longueurs of Italian films of the Sixties. There’s even a moody pause on the edge of a factory landscape à la Antonioni, and since we are beginning to wonder what the protagonist, Leo (Alessio Boni) is doing and where’s he’s going, one might be in the middle of L’Avventura when that happens. But the Sick Soul of Europe whose lost mood Antonioni delineated has been replaced by a murder mystery that ends in How Disturbed People Find Healing Relationships. Yet there’s no denying the visuals are a pleasure, and I’ve never seen a nude couple dancing to a Billie Holliday song in a Sicilian villa while being spied on by their kids before.

Leo is a stiff psychiatrist, with the wire-framed glasses and prissy lips to prove it. His handsome, smiling but uptight sister Ale (Valeria Solarino) is a model and would-be actress. She’s dating a big, bearish Serbian artist who lives in Paris, Harold (Emir Kusturica), and this is Healing Relationship No. 1, because it’s love, they’re going to get married, and Leo thinks it’s going to work for Ale this time. Harold smokes cigars, looks vaguely threatening, and is working on big messy paintings that suggest Julian Schnabel until he eventually mounts them in installations with old photos pasted on them that turn them into an obvious plot device. As young kids living in the villa in Sicily, flashbacks tell us, Leo and Ale witnessed their mother being murdered. Leo has spent the past three decades avoiding those memories, it appears, though one wonders how he became a shrink without exploring his own psyche. He learns that the villa is for sale and goes down to look at it, whereupon the memories flood back into his head and onto the screen.

Leo has a reunion with his father, and he starts to get along very well with the real estate agent, Anna (Donatella Finocchiaro)—who becomes Healing Relationship No. 2. Shortly before the end, we find out what really happened that night.

The moment when I fell in love with the images was when Leo walked around in his office and entered a long room full of aquariums with liquid, reflecting light. There is no time when this film ceases to look elegant and beautiful, and the people are good-looking too, except for the ugly Kusturica, who is glamorous because he’s a famous director; also handsome are the parents, Michele (Marco Baliani) and Adele (Claudia Gerini), and a good job is done of making Baliani look thirty years younger in the flashbacks.

There is a kind of parallelism that’s very Italian here: the principals are oppressed by their past, as Italians often are culturally and collectively by theirs, as the film is weighed down by damning comparisons to Sixties Italian cinematic greats evoked by its style and rhythms. And yet in spite of cultural exhaustion the Italians remain wonderful craftsmen, and the polish of Andò’s filmmaking gives pleasure even as one is forced to feel the way the Irish writer’s story was adapted is corny and lame. And while Finocchiaro is appealing, Solarino indeed seems like a model trying to be an actress, and Boni is so wooden and one-note throughout one wonders how he came to be considered a “hot” Italian film actor, and the plentiful tears don’t change the fact that these people are caught in just as emotionless a state as Antonioni’s, but without the delineation of an existential dilemma to go with it.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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