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Michele (Antonio Albanese) & Elsa (Margherita Buy) (Photo: Film Movement)

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Directed by
Silvio Soldini
Produced by
Lionello Cerri
Written by
Doriana Leondeff, Francisco Piccolo, Frederica Pontremoli & Soldini
Released by Film Movement
Italian with English subtitles
Italy/Switzerland. 115 min. Not Rated
With Margherita Buy, Antonio Albanese, Giuseppe Battiston, Alba Rohrwacher, Carla Signoris & Fabio Troiano

Though made last year, this Italian drama of a marriage shaken by an economic reversal of fortune feels very in the moment. Elsa and Michele, a solidly upper-middle-class couple in their mid-forties, abruptly start their lives all over again—not quite from scratch but severely downsized.

The opening scenes of their marriage seem too good to be true. Elsa has fulfilled her goal of passing her dissertation in art history (cum laude), and celebrates with friends and family at her birthday party thrown by her husband. Waking up hung over the morning after, she’s surprised to find that Michele’s already up—the look on his face reveals that the party is definitely over. He tells her that he’s out of work. In truth, he was fired two months earlier by the board of directors of the company he cofounded, and he’s running out of money fast.

The class distinctions blur as Michele resorts to menial labor and eventually forms a partnership of sorts with two laborers who used to be his employees. Although armed with a degree, Elsa only finds part-time work at a phone center before jumping into the secretarial pool. Because Elsa takes a less self-pitying route and more decisive action to keep some cash flowing in, she wins the audience’s sympathy, not least because in terms of secrets held, Michelle easily outnumbers her. She’s always the last to know, and a number of times he could have given her fair warning, namely that they will have to sell their large, well-furnished apartment with a great view of Genoa. As a result, one way to look at this movie is as an elegantly acted, art-house woman’s picture.

However, Elsa’s and Michele’s roles remain rigid; he, already defeated, withholds the truth (when not lying outright), too proud to face his new status; she forgives and calms him, as well as figures out a plan B. But she’s just as proud as him; she keeps to herself, losing contact with her best friend, and keeps their daughter, Alice (Alba Rohrwacher), in the dark. The film’s one true moment of horror occurs when Alice gets a strong inkling of the truth.

Although many will find the melancholic film modest, both Margherita Buy and Antonio Albanese credibly implode. Buy, especially, has a moving and almost silent breakdown. But after the couple has repeated the same behavior over and over again, the film’s resolution feels tacked on, going against the wind of change. Kent Turner
July 11, 2008



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