Friday, December 26, 2014

Streaming tip -- Andrea Molaioli's THE JEWEL: Toni Servillo and Italian corporate malfeasance

I wasn't much taken with Andrea Molaioli's earlier (and award-winning) movie The Girl by the Lake, so I am happy to report that his newer film, THE JEWEL (Il Gioiellino), now available to stream via Netflix, is a keeper -- all about Italian skullduggery in the corporate sector that may remind viewers who possess a little European history of the Parmalat dairy empire scandal that rocked Italy (and much of the Western world) back in 2003. Names have certainly been changed, as well as the time frame, but there is no mistaking the resemblances to certain people, living or dead, that bounce and romp across the screen, as the ever-entitled one per cent again stiffs the rest of us 99ers -- taking a few of their own along with them in the process. (That's filmmaker Molaioli, shown below.)

The other thing that makes this movie stand-out is its central perfor-mance by one of Italy's acting greats, Toni Servillo -- who, by now, has given just about every kind of amazing performance you can think of -- Il Divo to It Was the Son to his set of twins in the recent Viva la libertà -- and this guy just keeps getting better and better. (Probably Servillo's least interesting performance is in Molaioli's own Girl by the Lake.)

The Jewel begins almost at the end of things, then flashes back to, if not their beginning, at least a good ways into when the trouble bubbled to the surface. The director's style here is flashy -- but to a point. He weaves together all the pomp and PR with the use of politicians and religion, economics and accounting, and even a looks at some of the actual products created here -- finally creating a huge carpet of deception and avarice that would not be out of place in modern Russia. (One of the characters we meet even suggests Russia as an appropriate retirement spot for the company's CEO, played with infinite savoir faire and sleaze by Remo Girone, above).

Signore Servillo, above, plays the firm's expert accountant, a man who certainly knows his way around "creative bookkeeping," but who also turns out to be among the most decent of the film's many males. His relationship with a younger and quite attractive worker, who is also the niece of the reigning titan, becomes something much more interesting than we usually get in movies of this sort, and Servillo and his co-star, Sarah Felberbaum (below) make the most of it.

Given the complications of the plot and the machinations of all sorts from all angles, Molaioli is nonetheless able to keep us -- not simply understanding what is going on but also glued to the screen by all the greed, glamor and betrayals on view.  This is heady stuff, brought to a fine boil by the writer/director and his co-scribes, Ludovica Rampoldi and Gabriele Romagnoli.

Considering the number of characters here and the several sub-plots -- all of which lead us back to the central company, Leda, and its "output" -- by the film's strangely unsettling and moving finale, we've received a nasty but salutary education in Italian business. And maybe some understanding of what happened in that Parmalat fiasco.

The Jewel, running a fast-paced 110 minutes, is available now via Netflix streaming and probably elsewhere, too.

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