Wednesday, September 06, 2006
9. Paolo Sorrentino's Italian film "Le conseguenze dell'amore" (Consequences of Love) (2004)--Laugh and then reflect on why you laughed
I saw this interesting film back to back with the Chinese/French film 2046 at the 2005 Dubai Film festival. Both were intelligent works made the same year (2004/2005). Both had the main characters living in a "hotel". In both films, the hotel is more a metaphor of exile than a location. Both dealt with love between a man and a woman. Both had wonderful music and riveting performances. What a coincidence and yet how the two films differ in treatment of the subject!
Somewhere at the beginning of the film, a man walking on a pavement turns to look at a woman and in doing so hits a lamp post. The audience erupts in a volcano of laughter quite innocently. But isn't that brief shot the synopsis of the film, that entertains you for 2 hours? While the film is a wonderful blend of black comedy (e.g., using a stethoscope to listen to a neighbor's conversation in the adjoining hotel room), the film builds on what Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati had introduced to cinema earlier--stoic faces that leads to comedy quite in contrast to the equally intelligent world of Robin Williams or the heartwarming Danny Kaye. The sudden frenzy of activity of an otherwise stoic character moving money from the hotel to the bank is reminiscent of Tati's works and recently reprized in Zvyagintsev's Elena.
But the film is not mere comedy. The anti-automation statement (cash counting and the reaction of the bank staff to the statements relating to it, the dummy that acts as an ineffectual warning to the speeding lady, the reference to "Moulimix" as the fictitious "company" he works for, etc.) are several cues that the director is offering a loaded comedy to the viewer. Laugh, yes, but reflect on it and enjoy further...
The movie's strength lies in is brief, staccato script (by director Paul Sorrentino) that offers comedy that is mixed with philosophy ("Truth is boring," "Dad is dead, but nobody told him," "Bad luck does not exist--it is the invention of the losers and the poor". Then the director goes on to provide you with a fascinating lecture from the main character on insomniacs. You will not sleep through this lecture.
There is a loaded philosophical sequence where a young girl, sitting opposite the lead character Titta Di Girolamo, reads aloud a passage from a book: "Whatever he wants can happen. What a fine mess. That is the advantage of using memories to excite oneself. You can own memories, you can buy even more beautiful ones. But life is more complicated, human life especially so, a frightening, desperate adventure. Compared to this life of formal perfectionism, cocaine is nothing but a stationmaster’s pastime. Let us return to Sophie.. We become poetic as we admire her being, beautiful and reckless, the rhythm of her life flowed from different springs than ours. Ours can only creep along, envious. This force of happiness both exciting and sweet, that animated her, disturbed us. It unsettled us in an enchanting way, but it unsettled us nevertheless. That’s the word.” The reaction of Titta to the passage is interesting. Titta is himself a cocaine addict. Titta looks at the barmaid of the hotel-his own "formal perfectionism." The following sequence is of Titta calling his own wife and daughter on the phone--a conversation filled more with silence than words. They, too, are Titta's "memories." The final sequence of the film is of Tittas' best friend Dino Guiffre working alone repairing a fault on an electricity pylon in biting wind and a snowy landscape--recalling his own best friend Titta. This is a film about friendship that transcends the mafia.
Sorrentino provides entertainment pegged to the subject the Italians know best--the Mafia. It is an existential mafia film.
Since "Truth is boring", the director provides a dessert as part of the fine meal of superb acting (Toni Servillo), good music, clever camera-work (Luca Bigazzi), a beautiful, enigmatic actress (Magnani, grand-daughter of the immortal, striking Anna Magnani) and a powerful script. The dessert is for the viewer to figure out the truthful feelings of Titta, towards his family members, towards his hotel guests, towards the bar girl, towards the mafia, towards the bankers, towards the hotel owner, and towards his best friend Dino. (Assuming that the viewer accepts the eventuality of how Titta recovered his suitcase from the goons, how does he get inside his car and get it covered with its synthetic cover while he is still inside it?) Perhaps it is Sorrentino's admitted love for the literary works of Louis-Ferdinand Céline that has sculpted the character of Titta. The film's end will remain an enigmatic one for a reflective viewer.
P.S. Consequences of Love is one of the author's top 15 films of the 21st Century. Subsequent works of the director, This Must be the Place (2011), The Great Beauty (2013), and Youth (2015) have been reviewed on this blog.