Tuesday, June 23, 2009

QUIET CHAOS: Moretti, Grimaldi and a splendid cast deliver the goods on grief

The loss of a loved one is nothing new to fiction or cinema, yet the fine film by director Antonello Grimaldi (shown below) QUIET CHAOS (Caos Calmo, from the popular Italian novel of the same name by Sandro Veronesi), brings this situation alive in an original manner. Rather than allowing the event itself to keep things depressed and dour, the movie is graceful, encompassing and -- because it deals with

the necessity of moving on -- rich in life at its quirky, deceptive best. Quiet Chaos does not slight death (nor our responses to it) but has the wisdom to place the event in thoughtful perspective, both from the viewpoint of those closest to it, young and old, as well as from those who remain at some distance.

Quiet Chaos is full of surprise, particularly at its beginning. The movie includes quite a swatch of society: family, the workplace and corporate world, fashion and the "in" crowd. Better to get this out in the open, too: it's all about the wealthy. Whether they're losing their job or gaining a promotion, no one we see here worries about where his next meal is coming from or how he will provide for his offspring. These characters live well! So? Movie-wise, the upper class deserves its occasional day in the sun, particularly when this is presented to us by intelligent artists who, for a change, do not treat the concerns of the rich as the stuff of sleaze or soap opera. (OK, there's a little of the former present: How does the Jean-Claude character afford his fancy country house?) Given the very fine performances from a starry cast and the subtlety and interesting variations with which the director and his adapters -- Nanni Moretti (acting as both star and lead writer), Laura Paolucci and Francesco Piccolo -- bring to Veronesi's novel, it's hard to imagine that you won't enjoy being in the sun along with these folk.

Director Grimaldi (also known as Antonio Luigi Grimaldi) has worked more in Italian television than in films, but he proves a wise choice for this mainstream movie about love, death, family and business. (I do wonder if Mr. Moretti, who has himself directed a number of successful films -- Palombella Rossa, Dear Diary, The Son's Room -- didn't have a hand in the filmmaking process, in addition to his work writing and acting.) In any case, Grimaldi's camera (cinematography by talented veteran Alessandro Pesci) glides from place to place with control and grace. Note the scene early on when it travels from outside to inside the school and back again. This is a gentle movie in conception and performance: Even its many ironies -- such a fortune teller's prediction proving oddly true -- seem temperate rather than acerbic.

The lead character is played by Signore Moretti with a calm intelligence that holds the entire movie together. This fellow is such a decent man in so many ways -- note how he handles the opportunity to view his wife's emails -- that when, late in the film, he partakes of sex in a manner that is graphic, wild and not a little angry, the scene is memorably shocking. My god, you suddenly realize: This guy seems quite capable of the kind of testosterone-fueled behavior that being the top dog in his firm will surely entail.

Odd but insightful connections are made constantly throughout the film. Even a scene such as our hero's first attempt at smoking opium -- evidently the "maryjane" of Italy's wealthy set -- is about connec-
tions rather than the event itself, thus circumventing the usual cliches associated with movie moments devoted to a first-time high.

I mentioned earlier Quiet Chaos' starry cast -- a veritable who's who of Italian (and French) cinema today. Besides the very fine Moretti, you'll see Valeria Golino (shown in photo with Mr. Moretti, third from top), Isabella Ferrari (shown in fourth photo from top and just seen via the FSLC's Open Roads series in A Perfect Day), Silvio Orlando and Alba Rohrwacher (both from Open Road's Giovanna's Father); France's Charles Berling, Hippolyte Girardot and Denis Podalydès; and Alessandro Gassman, who has only grown sexier, hunkier (and toothier: see above) in the 22 years since he made Steam: The Turkish Bath. Newcomers of whom we will certainly be seeing more include the exquisitely beautiful Kasia Smutniak (shown two photos above, with St. Bernard) and Blu Yoshimi (aka Di Martino , shown with Mr. Gassman, above), who plays the Moretti character's lovely daughter. Oh, yes: the actor chosen to essay the role of the Mr. Big character -- a fellow we hear about throughout most of the movie -- is an absolutely inspired choice. I'm not telling who it is, and I hope my colleagues will refrain, as well, thus giving readers one more reason to see one of the best films to be released so far this year. Like the park bench, below, that supplies Moretti with the place and opportunity to think, observe and come to terms with his life, the movie provides something similar for us.

Added thought: If Italy had had the good sense to submit to the Academy Quiet Chaos as its choice for Best Foreign Film nominee last year, I wager that this movie would at least have made the cut and given Departures a run for its money. Nominating Gomorrah instead, because it seemed the hot item of the moment and had recently won an important Cannes award, was a ridiculous move. A movie that dark would never please the present Academy members, for whom awards at Cannes seldom mean much, either.

Quiet Chaos opens Friday, June 26, exclusively at IFC Center in NYC. It will also be available via IFC On-Demand. Check your specific TV reception-provider for further info.

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