Monday, January 20, 2014

Silvio Soldini's GARIBALDI'S LOVERS juggles a heap of stuff to get a look at modern-day Italy

The new movie from popular Italian master Silvio Soldini (Bread and Tulips, Agata and the Storm, Days and Clouds and Come Undone) finds the filmmaker in a more playful and magical mood than we've heretofore observed. GARIBAL-DI'S LOVERS -- rotten title, this! The original Italian (Il comandante e la cicogna) translates as The Commandant and the Stork, so maybe, as Garibaldi was indeed a fighter and military man, The Soldier and the Stork might have made better sense, while following the alliterative style of the original -- juggles so many themes, ideas and stories that you often fear for its (and your own) ability to keep them straight. It's a credit to the skill of Soldini that he not only does this but offers quite a bit of fun and thought in the process.

In this film, Signore Soldini (shown at left) gives us everything from a modern-day Italian family, struggling to get by, to sleazy lawyers and their clients, an artist trying to get the back pay owed her on a project, online bullying and pornography, talking statues, a ghost, and -- yes -- that stork (who proves quite the odd charmer).

The filmmaker begins with two of those statues, Garibaldi, from his high post above the crowd, to the more modern and on-the-ground Cazzaniga (I am guessing this is Gian Mario Cazzaniga, the still-living Socialist philosopher/politician/labor movement leader), who argue and quip. Garibaldi (and the film) looks at modern-day Italy and finds it grossly wanting -- "Maybe," the leader laments, "I should never have joined north and south" -- and we viewers see a few examples of exactly why.

Then we get to the actual story -- or stories: there are a lot of them -- which takes in all (and more) of what I mentioned above. These tales are certainly worthwhile, and the various actors who portray the characters are in fine form. The only trouble is that these maybe half dozen stories, even though they are all or mostly connected, are given such short shrift that they don't accrue much weight. Any one of them could have been used as the basis for an entire movie.

And yet, so generally clever is the writing (the excellent Marco Pettenello contributed to the screenplay) the give-and-take between the statues, the artist and her landlord, the lawyer and his client, the young man and the stork, and particularly the family's father and the ghost) that we tag along happily. If you're going to do a ghost these days, then it needs to offer something a little different, and this one certainly does (the ghost's description of "class" differences in heaven is hilarious!). Most of these stories add a twist to the expected (even the cyber-bullying/porn goes into areas that are a tad unusual).

The film does keep its pulse on Italy's own economic/social/political pulse, so if you've at all followed that country's situation over the past few years, you'll find a lot to think about (and fret over). Though the film itself, as an entertainment and a pretty good one, uses most of this as fodder for charm and laughter.

The excellent cast helps, too. Look for Alba Rohrwacher (above, right, and four photos up, and as usual, different enough to be nearly unrecognizable) as the artist; Giuseppe Battiston (two photos up) as the landlord; Valerio Mastandrea (at left, three photos up) as the put-upon dad; Claudia Gerini (three photos up) as a particularly gorgeous ghost; and Luca Zingaretti (above, left) as the shady lawyer. The kids (that's Luca Dirodi, making his film debut, below, with a special friend), as well as the rest of the supporting cast, are fine, too.

From Film Movement and running a healthy 108 minutes (though it might have been even longer to incorporate more ooomph into things), Garibaldi's Lovers hits the street on DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, January 21-- for rental and/or purchase.

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