Saturday, July 19, 2008

Caos Calmo

A widower spends his mourning days on a bench in front of his daughter’s primary school in Antonello Grimaldi’s Berlinale Competition title Chaos calmo (Quiet Chaos). With Nanni Moretti as the widower and co-screenwriter, the film will of course recall Moretti’s own Palme d’Or winner La stanza del figlio (The Son’s Room), but Grimaldi’s adaptation of the bestselling Sandro Veronesi novel is different enough to stand on its own. Already a hit in Italy, where it was released on February 8 and currently stands at €4.5 million in box-office receipts, the combination of Moretti’s presence combined with the star power of Valeria Golino and Isabella Ferrari, a serious topic and a generous helping of gentle humour could make the film a minor arthouse hit on the continent.

In a somewhat awkwardly filmed opening sequence in which the technical shortcomings seem to reflect the contrived a-life-for-a-life metaphor, Pietro Paladini (Moretti) and his younger brother Carlo (Alessandro Gassman, Hamam / Steam) rescue two women who are about to drown at the seaside while at Pietro’s summer home his dedicated wife (Ester Cavallari) drops dead in the garden surrounded by slices of watermelon (there is a strange echo of the Godfather’s death amidst his tomatoes).

Pietro is a successful TV executive whose company is working out an important merger deal when his wife’s death leaves him to care alone for their 10-year-old daughter Claudia (Blu Yoshimi). On his daughter’s first school day after the funeral, Pietro promises to wait for her at the gate until school is out, something that might have been decided on a whim on that first day but quickly turns into a habit, much to the astonishment of his family and colleagues who nevertheless respect the right of father and daughter to deal with their grief in their own way.

Ivano Fossati -- Lamore Trasparente

Grimaldi, Moretti and co-screenwriters Laura Paolucci (L’orizzonte degli eventi) and Francesco Piccolo (Moretti’s Il caimano / The Caiman) have cunningly opened up the narrative cinematically, as in the novel Pietro remains stuck in his car but in the film the TV executive has a nice tree-lined Roman square at his disposal. As time passes, Pietro gets to know all the regular passers-by and they get to know him. Even his colleagues now come to his designated park bench to have meetings with him, with the impending merger revealing some corporate backstabbing from several French co-workers (Hippolyte Girardot, Denis Podalydès, Charles Berling and Roman Polanski in a cameo) in a subplot that is played just right except for an unnecessary Venice-set flashback.

The most-discussed scene in the Italian media in what is otherwise a totally accessible film for all ages is a steamy sex scene between Moretti and Isabella Ferrari, which is remarkable seen that the two actors together are almost a century old. It is clearly meant as a spontaneous moment of release for Pietro, who might finally have crossed the threshold from simple grief to acceptance and the realisation that life goes on. Thankfully Grimaldi does not linger too much on the fact that Ferrari’s character is the same woman that Pietro rescued in the film’s opening sequence, thus largely avoiding a transfer of affection-gimmick that would have been more at home on Italian television (incidentally also the place where Grimaldi has been employed for the last ten years after several features made for the cinema in the early 1990s).

Throughout Caos calmo Moretti is effectively low-key and he avoids bringing back memories of La stanza del figlio, while Yoshimi as his daughter Claudia is cute without bringing much else to the table. Valeria Golino (Respiro) puts in an appearance as Pietro’s twitchy sister-in-law but it is Alessandro Gassman as Pietro’s younger brother Carlo who steals the show. One of the film’s best scenes has Pietro visit Carlo at night to pick up Claudia after a day spent with her cool uncle (he designs jeans), when Pietro finds his younger sibling smoking opium. Without once going into stoner comedy territory, Grimaldi creates a scene of gentle comedy that fits right in with the film’s subdued yet not unhumorous tone.

Modern music is emphatically present on the soundtrack though not to the extent of an Ozpetek film; Grimaldi knows where to place his Rufus Wainwright and Radiohead (the latter also played an important role in the original novel). The film’s closing scenes set in the snow resolve everything nicely with a quietly earned respect for the characters.

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