Friday, November 28, 2008

Distributor Wanted: Salvatore Maira's VALZER

You might think that any narrative film able to create with simplicity, economy and flair the state of Berlusconi's Italy today (and, by extension, much of the western world) in all its shallow grandeur, shoddy culture and emphasis on appearance, power and possessions -- and then cap it off with one hell of a stunning technical feat -- would garner a small release here in the U.S.A. No? You may be a cynic, but so far, you'd also be on target.

Salvatore Maira's amazing work VALZER (The Waltz) is such a quietly spectacular achievement that I am flummoxed as to why a film this smart and timely has not seen, at least briefly, a commercial run. The movie manages to thrillingly combine ideas about society today (sports, cosmetic surgery, Muslims and marketing -- among other concerns) and an unusual visual notion that's been done previously only in spurts and in one full-length documentary, Russian Ark.

If you're familiar with that interesting piece from Aleksandr Sokurov, you will have guessed that The Waltz is another movie composed of one single, continuous full-length camera shot that goes on and on until it comprises the entire film. The camera moves from person to person, room to room, inside to outside with nary an edit. So what? When Russian Ark did this (in 2002), it was a first, and we were inside the Hermitage, seeing all that spectacular art, meeting historical characters, and being led around by a charming, slightly naughty tour guide. In The Waltz, the technical achievement--and it remains quite an achievement--is matched by a grand conception and dialog that had me hanging on every word -- listening hard and marveling at the intelligence, irony, cynicism, caring and daring on display.

Writer/director Maira (he also gave us the unusual, beautiful Amor nello specchio or Love in the Mirror) serves up today's world (in a lickety-split 75-or-so minutes) via the venue of one posh Italian hotel, with guests representing the "haves" and workers the "have-nots." The moving camera gives the film a continuous fluidity and immediacy different from what editing -- no matter how accomplished -- could achieve. Plus, it blends and binds all the characters and plot strands into a seamless, horrible whole/hole. The most daring and amazing part of the film, for me, is the manner in which Maira manages to take us into, not just the present moment, but the past, too--with his camera still moving. He has performed the cinema equivalent of a stunning coup de théâtre.

The story comes directly and urgently from the characters on view: specifically, a father just released from a South American prison and the young woman, one of the hotel staff, with whom he has an unusual connection. There is a missing girl, a conference devoted to the idea of first controlling soccer and then an entire populace, the immigrant as work force, and even a moment of memorably sudden, shocking violence. Through it all, Maira opens us up to ideas about the meaning of family, blood, and the insider/outsider. Most importantly, we learn how the ideas we hear spouted by a "marketing/psychology" guru have taken their toll on one young woman who becomes the tragic personification of everything this guru is teaching. Amidst the rich and pointed dialog, there may be a moment or two you'll feel are too much, but these will seem minor quibbles when set against Maira's achievement.

Among a fine cast, the standout is Valeria Solarino (shown in photo at top and below, with Maurizio Micheli) -- an actress popular in Italy but still unknown to American audiences. I have now seen four of her films, all shown at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's yearly Italian Film Festival Open Roads: La Felicità non costa niente (Happiness is Free), Viaggio segreto (Secret Journey), Signorina Effe (Ms F) and Valzer. If there is another actress capable of so exquisitely communicating a quiet exterior masking inner turmoil, I am unaware of her. Ms Solarino is extremely beautiful, and it may be that these initial roles all possess a similar roiling quietude, so, at this point in her career, I can't vouch that her abilities include any enormous range. But I will certainly take advantage of any opportunity I have to see her work again.

I first encountered Valzer last June during the FSLC Open Roads fest. I reviewed it at the time (much of the above is from that review, written for and posted on GreenCine) and expected that -- soon or eventually -- it would find its way into theatres, or at very least onto DVD. While it may be impolitic for someone like me to so obviously go to bat for a movie that lacks distribution, so be it. If a critic cannot get fully behind a film that deserves to be seen, what's the point? Director Maira and his producer Gian Mario Feletti have graciously allowed me to act as go-between, and I will be happy to send a DVD (English-subtitled and playable on American machines) to any bona fide distributor who would like to view the film -- and put him/her in touch with the filmmakers. For anyone interested in cinema that experiments and expands our understanding while remaining accessible & intelligent, thought-provoking & moving, I can recommend no more bracing current example than this Waltz.

Photos from Valzer, above, are courtesy of Salvatore Maira.


Weezy said...

beautiful screen shots, james! would love to get a chance to see this

James van Maanen, said...


I wish you could see Valzer, but so far, I have not been able to line up a distributor. Seems a shame, but I shall keep trying.

I tried to go on your blog but couldn't. It's closed, I guess?