Friday, December 31, 2010

Paolo Sorrentino - L'Amico di famiglia AKA The Family Friend (2006)

Geremia de' Geremei is 70. A usurer, ugly, filthy, rich and tight-fisted, cynical and ironic. He has a sick and obsessional relation with everything: his mother, his father, money, women. Life itself.
That's why he thinks he's lonely. But in fact he is not alone.
They're all like him. We are all like him.

Director’s Note

A long time ago, in Siberia, when it was at least ten below, on an excursion that felt more like a deportation, I clung to my seat in the bus running a fever of over a hundred.
But not them. The bus stopped, and no one batted an eye. She was very old, her son not far behind. They couldn’t give a damn about any of it. They just wanted to stroll around the tundra. They defied the bitter cold, hand in hand, skating almost in slow motion over the ice. I saw them gliding intimately, from behind, through the snow-covered trees in the immaculate Siberian white. When they got back on the bus, happy and frozen, the man started talking to another participant, another misfit like himself, and that’s when I stared staring at his mother. She had rolled herself up in a ball of profound sadness. A jealous mummy filled with rage. She was thinking, I’m certain of it, that she had just lost, in one fell swoop, a son and a partner.
That is how the film was born, observing on the sly, for just a moment, a morbid, pathological relationship, one that was degenerate but also funny. At that instant, the idea of a double somersault came to me: to make a film both sickly and nimble, comic and dramatic. And with joyful recklessness, I threw myself into what a film, in my opinion, should always embody: a somersault.
A double or triple is even better. A difficult dive, a dive into humanity and its degeneracy.
Which are in fact a hendiadys.
Paolo Sorrentino

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
The spirits of Michelangelo Antonioni and Ben Jonson come together in this terrifically stylish, angular, enigmatic new movie by the Italian writer-director Paolo Sorrentino, who showed us the same weird and captivating elegance in his 2004 film The Consequences of Love.
The setting is the Pontine Marshes in Italy, near Rome, rendered habitable by Mussolini's drainage scheme before the war, and now turned into a pleasant, provincial town. A local wiseguy slaps his neck at one stage and grinningly shows the squashed mosquito: "All this was swamps before Il Duce!" Centre stage is Giacomo Rizzo, playing Geremia Di Geremei, an ageing tailor and moneylender, a man who wears his overcoats and jackets over his shoulders in the manner of Italian men of a certain age, and here specifically because he has a broken arm in a cast, though how he sustained the injury is not clear. He scuttles along like a wounded animal, back and forth between his tailoring sweatshop - whose purpose may be to launder usurious income for the taxman's benefit, but where he certainly puts in a full day - and his dire little flat, which he shares with his bedridden mother, and whose only luxury is a big flat-screen TV.
In the shop he accepts petitions from desperate souls who need a cash advance, and a big part of his business is engaged couples and their parents who don't know how they are going to pay for the wedding. Geremia gloats lasciviously over the lovely young brides-to-be and lingeringly kisses them with mock-fatherly affection. The young women, their faces set like concrete, try not to throw up. Back in the flat, Geremia wears an odd potato poultice round his forehead as a migraine cure, which makes him look like the world's least frightening samurai, and wearily submits to whingeing calls from his mother to change her brimming bedpan. "Micro o macro?" (Number ones or number twos?) he asks defeatedly.
Geremia and his clientele have a little face-saving fiction: that he is a "friend of the family", discreetly helping out. The friendship turns ugly when he has to show up at the homes of late-payers with a couple of goons in tow. Sorrentino has a brilliantly black-comic scene in which, creepily solicitous as ever, Geremia tells a terrified couple that he's worried they are getting behind with their payments. After walking off with an expensive food blender in lieu of cash, Geremia stops in the darkened hallway and turns: his sixth sense for weakness having alerted him to something else he's greedy for. Like an insidious predator in the gloom, he wordlessly caresses the young wife who is petrified with disgust but cannot afford to insult him - and reveals his compulsion is not precisely sexual nor financial, but something different, something closer to perverted sentimentality.
The moneylender's career comes to a fateful crux when he pays for the wedding of a beautiful young woman, Rosalba (Laura Chiatti). Her father has no idea how on earth he is going to cover the cost of the festivities, and so, cringing with shame and self-disgust, he ushers Geremia into his daughter's bedroom on the big day and leaves them alone together - on the pretext that, as a tailor, he is going to fix the broken shoulder-strap on her bridal gown.
Sorrentino's movies are seductively indirect, unwilling to reveal their narrative intent or tonal colour. He is an utterly distinctive director, here setting his own lush, bizarre, anti-romantic mood at the beginning by playing a clip of Antony and the Johnsons' unforgettably strange song I Am a Bird Now on the soundtrack, with its keening lyrics: "My lady's story is one of annihilation/ My lady's story is one of breast amputation ..." Rosalba's dance number when she wins a local beauty contest is completely gripping: not quite realistic, nor obviously stylised: an eccentric, but entirely self-possessed piece of choreography, like the rest of the film.
Geremia himself, though loathsome, is an interesting figure: Sorrentino engineers a suspension of judgment by not revealing everything about him straight away, by keeping us off-balance on the tilting floorplan of his fictional world, and by giving him plenty of funny lines. He has a habit of assuring his customers: "My last thought will be of you!" which has a camp nonchalance to it, as well as a poignant reminder of his imminent death. Food is a big consideration. He is sentimentally entranced to hear about a baby's breast-feeding: "Weaning is the first step to the restaurant!" And he nurses his own eccentric objections to certain vegetables: "Red peppers are like depleted uranium after 30 years."
The relationship between Geremia and the defiant Rosalba, though unlikely in any realistic sense, actually reminded me, more than a little, of the parodic affair between the disfigured De Flores and Beatrice-Joanna in the Jacobean revenge drama The Changeling: an affair kickstarted by disgust and then driven by an intimacy in corruption and shame. I can't believe Sorrentino had the classical English stage in mind when he wrote this, but it has the same beady-eyed satirical sense of conceit, arrogance and delusion. It's a deeply involving film, with a cracking performance from Giacomo Rizzo, which left me baffled but very amused and intrigued. Not everyone wants to feel like this in the cinema. If you do, then this is something you need to check out.

Wonderfully strange…dazzles the viewer with an array of enigmatic images
- Tom Dawson, TOTAL FILM

Insistently stylish (both visually and aurally)…clearly the work of an ambitious, audacious and unusually gifted filmmaker... a convincingly surreal world... compellingly strange... worth repeat viewings
- Geoff Andrew, TIME OUT

One of the most distinctive voices in Italian cinema now…moments of twisted brilliance that make it more worthwhile
- Wendy Ide, THE TIMES

One of the most extraordinary films you’re likely to see this year... a stylish triumph for hot Italian talent Paolo Sorrentino... a Technicolor Pasolini
- Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, METRO

A perverse modern-day fairytale…the charismatic, fabulously eccentric performance by Rizzo

Visually stunning, beautifully acted, grippingly bizarre
- Marcel Berlins, THE GUARDIAN

The competition’s one absolute left-field revelation... I can’t begin to say how crazy and inspired his film is... Visually and narratively, it’s popping with ideas... I sincerely hope this fevered dream of a film gets the Cannes recognition it deserves.

It’s immediately apparent from the very first scenes that we’re watching a supremely assured and able filmmaker at work…Sorrentino also fashions a witty, intensely stylish film.
- Geoff Andrew, TIME OUT

A terrifically stylish, angular fantasy... written with neo-Jonsonian spleen and wit... a fantastic performance from... Rizzo who really did deserve the best actor prize.
- Peter Bradshaw, THE GUARDIAN

Deploys a virtuoso visual style…the film’s ambition, energy and intelligence are apparent
- Geoff Andrew, SIGHT AND SOUND

Single Link'Amico_di_famiglia.avi


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