Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Virzi', The First beautiful thing- review

Hallelujah, a contemporary Italian director has made a really good movie. They said it couldn't be done! But ole Paolo Virzi' has gone and done it. Not a masterpiece, mind you, but definitely a quality film that will be of broad appeal.

So you think that, although Italy as a society and as a state is a mess, the Italian family is a bulwark, a sunny oasis of love and stability? You should know better than that. Here is the story of a chaotic family over a period of about four decades, starting in 1971 (it may not be a coincidence that this year was the year divorce was finally legalized in Italy, a hotly contested watershed in its history).

The movie moves back and forth between the past and present, with the fine cinematography making it easier to negotiate the rapid back and forth (warm sepia-like tones for the distant past, cooler colors with a lot of blue for the present). Bruno is a disenchanted high school teacher with a drug problem and commitment issues. He is forcefully brought by his sister from Milan to see their dying mother in the hospice in Livorno, his hometown. This evokes an upheaval of memories and forces him to come to terms with his family history, including letting go of the ever-popular blaming-your-parents-indefinitely-for-your-fuckups. In a moment of humor, he and his sister as adults meet a previously unknown half-brother whom they would like to introduce to his real (their) mom. Bruno says: "She ruined my life, she ruined my sister's life, if you meet her, she could ruin yours, too."

My Italian mother remarked long ago that those who say they've been messed up by their parents should remember that these parents could say the same about their own parents, too, in an infinite regress. In fact, in a surprise twist at the end, Bruno's sister veers off unexpectedly into "deviance" herself, setting her children and husband up for some serious pain. Does Bruno ever come out of his funk? Well, watch closely at the end (you might miss this) when the addict takes a long look at his mother's morphine drip and takes a pass.

(in the photo, Stefania Sandrelli, who plays the mother as an old woman, in her splendid youth)