Thursday, November 8, 2007

Le conseguenze dell'amore

The Consequences of Love (original Italian title: Le conseguenze dell'amore) is a film made in 2004 by the Neapolitan director Paolo Sorrentino. It is a psychological thriller which tells the story of a lonely and secretive Italian businessman living in a Swiss hotel. The film won five David di Donatello awards including Best Film Best Director and Best Actor; and was nominated for the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004. It was also the first film to achieve widespread critical acclaim for Sorrentino, who went on to direct the 2006 film The Family Friend.

The film is noted for its extremely stylish cinematography. The most memorable scene features Titta injecting himself with heroin and sees the camera flip 180 degrees as it follows Titta's falling head. Critics have also praised the film's tracking shots and the opening sequence, which depicts a bright white corridor.

Titta Di Girolamo is a middle-aged loner who has spent the last eight years living in an upmarket hotel in Lugano, Switzerland. Every day he puts on his suit and wanders around the nearby streets, visiting shopping centres and avoiding contact with people. In the morning, he solves the chess puzzles in the paper and in the evening he plays Grabber with a bankrupt aristocratic couple who are marooned in the hotel they used to own. Occasionally, he rings his family in Salerno but his wife is always reluctant to talk, and his grown-up children despise him. He develops feelings for Sofia, the beautiful and stylish waitress at the bar but he refuses to speak to her because, in his shyness, he fears that love would complicate his monotone but quiet life.

The reasons behind Titta's strange existence gradually become apparent. Eight years ago, it is revealed, Titta was a businessman who invested large sums of money for clients. One day, he lost 220 billion lira on the stock market. That money belonged to Cosa Nostra. By way of punishment, Titta must separate from his family and live for the rest of his life as a Mafia pawn; his job is to make regular deliveries of suitcases full of money to a Swiss bank. He always demands that the bank count the cash by hand.

Titta's other secret is that he is a heroin addict. Every Wednesday at ten p.m., this respectable forty-nine-year-old businessman goes up to his hotel room and injects himself with the drug.

One day, things start to happen: two Mafia men suddenly arrive in his hotel room, which they intend to use as a base in order to carry out an assassination. As the two gangsters leave, they notice the suitcase containing the money that Titta must deliver that week.

Later, Titta's gregarious younger step-brother turns up. He encourages Titta to engage with Sofia more, and Sofia and Titta begin an awkward relationship which is romantic but not sexual. They go shopping together, and Titta buys her some shoes.

Meanwhile, during Titta's trip to the bank that week, the bank staff counting the money by hand discover that there is $100,000 missing. Titta is already aware of this - he has stolen it - but pretends to be outraged at their 'mistake' and asks to close his account. His bluff achieves the intended result: in order to avoid offending him, and partly out of fear of the Mafia, the bank staff pretend that they miscounted, and so his theft goes unreported.

It turns out that Titta has stolen the money in order to buy an expensive car for Sofia. She is initially appalled by this gift, as she feels she does not know him well enough, but later comes up to his room to apologise and to try and discover more about him. Titta, in a rare tender moment, reveals all his secrets to her, and Sofia is so touched that she offers to celebrate his 50th birthday with him on the following evening. He accepts.

Disaster strikes. The next day, the two Mafia assassins return and steal that week's suitcase. Titta panics and immediately telephones his Sicilian Mafia contact, Pippo, who tells him to fly to Sicily that day to explain. But then Titta regains his composure, grabs his gun and switches off the power for the elevator, forcing the Mafia men to use the stairs as a getaway. This slows them down, and Titta is able to use the lift himself to get to the carpark ahead of them. He hides in his car, and kills the duo when they arrive.

Despite recovering the money, Titta decides to fly to Sicily anyway to explain himself. His reasons are initially unclear and he seems uncertain about following through his plans, partly because they will force him to miss his supper with Sofia. However, when Sofia fails to turn up, a despondent Titta, thinking that no-one loves him, leaves for the airport. In actual fact, Sofia does not turn up because she is involved in a car-crash.

Arriving in Palermo, Titta is taken to a nearby hotel and, after a wait in a guestroom, is interrogated by a capo di tutti capi. Titta explains that he has recovered the money but then says he does not want to give it back. At this point, the Mafia boss ominously tells a subordinate to transfer Titta's account to someone else before asking Titta to tell him where the money is. Titta again refuses. He is led away by guards and the next morning is taken to a building site. Here he is suspended from a crane above a container of fresh concrete, and told that unless he reveals the money's whereabouts, he will be drowned in the concrete. As he has already given the money to the elderly aristocrats in the hotel, he refuses.

The film ends with Titta being lowered into the concrete and thinking of his long-lost friend Dino, who works as an electrician in the Alps.

Surely you have seen his type; fiftyish, dark rimmed spectacles, well dressed but not flashy, inconspicuously sitting in the lobby of an unnamed hotel, probably with his legs crossed, looking in the daily newspaper for the chess problem of the day. Have you ever wondered what this unremarkable person does for a living? What kind of emotions this person might have? Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino has the answer; the protagonist of his Le conseguenze dell’amore’ (The Consequences of Love) is just such a person. Sorrentino’s carefully observed drama peels away the layers of mystery surrounding this apparently dull man with such expertise that it will make you alternatively tingle and cringe in your chair until the understated coda delivers the final blow. Despite two superfluous sub-plots, Le conseguenze dell’amore is clearly the work of a writer-director who could quickly ascend to the upper regions of European filmmaking.

Our mystery man is called Titta di Gerolamo (Toni Servillo), but, as he says himself, the only frivolous thing about him is his name. Divorced from his wife and children, he lives a lonely life in an anonymous hotel in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland. He works little; once or twice a week he goes out to deposit the contents of a suitcase at a local bank. His life seems to be as calm as a pond on a windless day. Before this would become an utterly boring film however, life a large and heavy stone into that pond of languid tranquillity. The result of that throw ripples through di Gerolamo’s life long after the stone has hit the bottom.

Sorrentino, for whom this is only his second feature length film, approaches Titta as one would any stranger in a hotel lobby, observing him but not asking him any questions. As we get to know him and his surroundings a little bit better, we come to understand more about the man with the inexpressive face. Servillo does an excellent job of hiding behind a straight poker face yet telling us so much; there are two beautifully filmed little sequences in which a small twitch of his lips tell us that his face is, in fact, not immobile and that the owner must thus have emotions like the rest of us.

Sorrentino is clearly more interested in making a thorough character study of Titta rather than a flashy thriller, though the latter half of the film has some elements of that genre too. The violence and accidents that are part of this semi-thriller are the weakest scenes of Le conseguenze dell’amore. The film would have benefited from trimming all the scenes that do not bear directly on Titta, his reasoning and his actions.

As it stands there are two small subplots, one involving the barmaid from the hotel and another two Sicilian visitors, that distract too much from the main narrative enigma that is Titta himself. Sorrentino is at his most effective when he creates an atmosphere of ominous dread by simply waiting and registering everyday actions. The constant floating movements of the camera and the modern musical score underline Titta's detachment from his surroundings; he would like to be invisible but for that he would have to be loved and not be alone. Everything seems calm on the surface, but a twitch of the lips might cause an eruption of temperament which can not be reversed.

Boyd van Hoeij in European Films Net

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