February 3, 2009
DVD OF THE WEEK: Days and CloudsDays and Clouds (Giorni e nuvole)
Directed by Silvio Soldini
2007, 115 minutes, In Italian with English subtitles
Film Movement It's not that we need another reminder of the demoralizing economy, but Bread and Tulips director Silvio Soldini's modest new captivator -- about a middle-aged Genoa couple whose relationship begins to buckle under the weight of financial duress -- exposes the tenuous politics of potentially every marriage with perceptive nuances, not the archetypal plate-throwing hysteria or maudlin austerity of countless European art-house dramas. Akin to the lead in Laurent Cantet's Time Out, balding neurotic Michele (Antonio Albanese, an uncanny Ron Carey lookalike) lost his executive job at the company he co-founded, but has refused to tell anyone for the past two months, including his art-historian wife Elsa (Margherita Buy) and 20-year-old daughter Alice (Alba Rohrwacher). Finally dropping the bomb on his better half that their upcoming Cambodian vacation and other luxuries will have to be downgraded, Michele refuses to scale back or tell anyone else out of unwavering pride; that he still pays for group dinners and turns down handouts may seem hard to relate for many viewers at a time like this, but Soldini has smartly written his characters with upper-middle-class accommodations so that the contrast is felt when they begin to slide into dire straits. Albanese and Buy are so comfortable in the parts and warmly believable together that you pull for them through thick and thin, even when their behavior illustrates how our possessions and lifestyles can, sadly, define us. Not knowing that her husband was hanging out on his boat all day instead of going to an office, Elsa quit her job to restore a ceiling fresco full-time, and now must work for peanuts (comparably) as a telemarketer during the day, a secretary at night. Michele mopes around, and for anyone who has ever been unemployed, the tics are painfully familiar: zoning out to the TV with impotent anger, cleaning the apartment just to feel productive, or on some days, not being able to get out of bed at all. In a truly humbling moment, Michele consents to a scooter deliveryman gig, then pulls up next to Alice and her quite gainfully employed boyfriend in the car beside him; she doesn't yet know about her father's situation, and the fixed shot of his helmeted melon from behind is a gut punch. In scene after scene, the couple responds to one another's prideful misdeeds (mostly Michele's) with alternating retaliation and apathy, sometimes appallingly so, but between Soldini's script, uncomplicated vérité style and the leads' chemistry, the underlying love they share is palpable, even when it makes more sense if and when they part. Days and Clouds is hardly an original narrative, but its naturalism and honesty and all-too-rare maturity all satisfy in a time when the shrinking of the middle class itself proves a cause of drama.
Posted by ahillis at February 3, 2009 6:59 PM