Thursday, 29 July 2010

You Stole My Life, And I'm Stealing Your Suitcase.

Cannes in 2004 had a whole bunch of big names competing for the top prize. Already here we've looked at a couple - Oldboy and Tropical Malady (from this year's winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul) measured up against such directors as two-time Palme d'Or winner Emir Kusturica, a new film from previous winners the Coen brothers, Wong Kar Wei, Olivier Assayas, and the eventual winner that year Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. It wasn't necessarily a banner year on the French coast (compared to the pedigree of this year, for example), but it seems to have made a decent play at making its mark in this here blog.

That was a very longwinded way of getting to the point. The Consequences of Love, Paulo Sorrentino's uber-stylish second feature also played in the competition. It is a beautiful and pointed, very precise film strikingly shot by Luca Bigazzi, rendered somewhat distant by its own insistence on pitch-perfect on-screen beauty. 

Titta (Toni Servillo) has spent the last eight years living in a hotel in Switzerland, separated from his family who don't really want anything to do with him, doing a mundane delivery job for the Italian mafia as a punishment for losing an extraordinary amount of their money on the stock market. He is too afraid to start anything with Sofia (Olivia Magnani), the girl behind the bar, because he doesn't want to complicate things. His brother, a flighty character, convinces him to leap off and go after her, and Titta follows his advice. How much of what follows can be attributed to this action is debatable, but it must be said that things do indeed start to go wrong.

It is truly beautiful to watch. From the opening shot of a big long hallway with a porter on a travelator you know you're in for something special. And then there is the beautiful 180 degree spinning shot of Titta in the hotel room - stunning. Matched with some exceptional music, both original by Pasquale Catalano and existing from bands such as Mogwai, it truly lends an incredible backdrop from which to build the characters.

And don't get me wrong, the characters do build. Titta, who is the undeniable focus of every moment of the film, is a hard character to get into, but he does let his guard down and gradually allow you to see inside his emptiness and hopelessness - he has been almost entirely hollowed out emotionally and spiritually by his strange form of imprisonment by the Italian mafia. What hasn't been emptied, however, is quickly given over to Sofia. Servillo especially excels, dominating the characterisation. But you're never really allowed to see totally inside him, or, for that matter, Sofia. His grand gestures are nervous, with fear of failure that you know he is going to try and convince himself he doesn't feel but which is electrically charged through every movement. And Sofia, with her reactions, shows her fear of all of the unknowns surrounding the strange man who lives in the hotel. Even after all of his secrets are spilled, however, this fear still seems to permeate. And while you are swept away by everything you are watching as the film moves towards its terrific climax, I never truly found myself engaged with the people within the film. I was there intellectually, fine, it got me there. But I was still entirely able to switch it off at the end, say I was done and move on. What stands out to me are the visuals without an emotional attachment - unlike, for example, Days of Heaven where the visuals may well have been what stood out but they brought with them the associated feelings announced through the narrative.

I don't really know where to place this film. I liked it. I really liked it. I thought it was very entertaining, it kept me watching, I was never bored. But I also never felt. It's a strange feeling (and one that I'm going to be repeating soon when I get up to writing up a certain summer blockbuster that everyone has been talking about...), but it's not necessarily a bad one. I am convinced, however, that it could have been that little bit more, that it should have been a little bit more. Producer Domenico Procacci has brought us plenty of films that manage that before (see Gomorrah) but here he couldn't quite get all the pieces aligned. But there is enough promise to make me look forward to my next engagement with Sorrentino, and indeed Procacci (whose relationship with Rolf de Heer will always keep me intrigued.) 4 stars.

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