Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2021 1:55 pm 
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A fresh p.o.v. for a handsomely shot film about Years of Lead terror that sadly loses its way

Built loosely out of a real-life assassination attempt against the director's own father. A deputy police commissioner in Rome, he was attacked in 1976 by Nuclei Armati Proletari, the radical left "Armed Proletarian Cells." It was the "Anni di piombo" (Years of Lead) period in Italy of constant violence from extremists that culminated in Aldo Moro's kidnapping and assassination. This film is different in approaching everything from the p.o.v. of a child. Valerio (Mattia Garaci), the ten-year-old son, is however an invented objective correlative, since the young Noce himself was only two or so when the attack actually happened. The idealization is indicated by choosing a young actor for the son who looks like a blond angel, delicate, aloof, yet spirited, almost too perfect to be real. The fun of watching Garaci is for those occasional signs of realness. The adored, aloof "Padrenostro," the at-risk top cop, is played by the ugly-beautiful Pierfrancesco Favino, in Italians' minds right now from playing the lead of the 2018 Il traditore (The Traitor), a high profile film director by Marco Bellocchio about a key piece of Mafia history.

The early sequences, following a modern-day one with an adult Valerio (Paki Meduri) that shows he's still scared, but makes little sense, focus on the attack by the leftist terrorists on the father, which the young son witnesses, though the adults think he hasn't and go to lengths to hide the facts when dad returns from hospital after having the holes plugged up. But the boy remains terrified. Weissberg thinks, and he may be right, that the best executed scene is the one where Valerio takes chalk and animatedly draws outlines to show his new friend, 14-year-old Christian (Francesco Geghi) where the attack on his father was and where the body of the killed terrorist lay. It is a wholly absorbing scene.

At some times I actually liked the way the film took a break, seeking to show Valerio's dreaminess, and also shooting the empty rooms of the big Rome family apartment when they have just driven away for their break/vacation in Calabria, the rooms thereby seeming both peaceful and ominous.

It's rare when children are central in a film contrasted with adults. One thinks of Rene Clément's Forbidden games and another classic, Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol. Noce nails the remote but vivid adult, the sensitive children. He doesn't tell a powerful enough tale. That's because he has no tale to tell here. He is only gesturing at a period and events that are lifelong traumas in his own life. He has indicated doing so imaginatively was in itself therapeutic for him. But film art and therapy are different, though Noce's effort is obviously sincere and there is art here, in the work of the actors and the golden and fluid cinematography of Michele D’Attanasio. This is a beautiful film. And it has its fine moments between the two boys. When they seem real. When one realizes that the writers, Noce and his cowriter Enrico Audenino, are confused about how they're using Christian, one loses one's confidence in the scenes between them

A Venice Guardian review by Ian Brook is partly favorable: he calls it a "beautiful mess." As usual Jay Weissberg has a precise and measured description and evaluation in Variety See the cold analysis of Olivier Bachelard in Abus du Ciné which shows how inconsistent the treatment of Christian is. This shaky handling of the boys' relationship is sad, because Garaci as Vale is as able as he is attractive, Ghegi as Christian is real and sympathetic, and the scenes between them are charming. But they begin to feel tentative when it starts to seem Noce can't make up his mind about the existence of the older boy - imaginary or not. There is a whole final segment in Calabria when he and his cowriter Enrico Audenino appear to be making it up from one scene to the next.

I was amused once I'd decoded its Bosnian text, with this vivid example of personal reviewing, on Letterboxd (in toto): "Well, this man was BORN to play an Italian mobster who was shot by a machine gun in a blue shirt and white pants with a light song. And he also looks like my grandfather." Who knows? Maybe he has experience that gives him access to aspects of this film I do not.

Padrenostro, 121 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2020; , playing also at Busan Sept. 2020, at Greek Film Archive Feb. 2021, Mubi Apr. 2021, online May 2 at Rome's Festival del Cinema Italiano. It won the Pellicola d'oro best camera and electrical award and the best actor award for Pierfrancesco Favino at Venice and the David di Donatello for best cinematography 2021; plus 8 nominations. Screened online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021). Theatrical release pending in France.

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