Quirky Love, Quirky Lives, and Quirkier Statues Abound In GARIBALDI'S LOVERS
Jan 21, 2014
No matter how hard one looks, it’s growing increasingly difficult to find greater character comedies these days. It would seem – so far as America’s Hollywood is concerned – that they’ve instead been absorbed by the romantic comedy market: instead of crafting some well-intentioned creations and giving them a life all of their own, storytellers shifted the focus to the main plot – the romance – and have left the secondary players without much meat on their bones.
Not so entirely with GARIBALDI’S LOVERS. Writer/director Silvio Soldini – who collaborated with Doriana Leondeff and Marco Pettenello in bringing this kinda/sorta love story to life – moves the narrative focus back onto the ensemble but misses the mark in fully realizing every person in the piece.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Life in the big city comes alive in more ways one can imagine. For example, the statues have taken on a presence, and they’ve even begun speaking with one another, though not as decorously as they appear. In fact, they’re downright uncivil! Don’t worry: no one else can hear it. But their stone faces keep watch over the denizens walking beneath them, and they can’t help but comment like a Greek chorus on the shenanigans they observe. There’s Diana (played by the suitably bookish Alba Rohrwacher), a modern-day artist who can’t scrape together enough money to pay the rent. There’s her landlord, Amanzio (Giuseppe Battiston), a true penny-pincher who’ll drop famous quotations for inspiration at the drop of a hat. And then there’s Leo (Valerio Mastandrea), a widowed plumber, and his family: Leo’s presently comically haunted by the ghost of his late wife Teresa (Claudia Gerini), a sprite who talks trash about an afterlife that no one possibly imagined before. As these busy people go about their busy lives, they intersect in ways even they never imagined possible; before all is said and done, they just might stumble headfirst into happiness completely by accident.
Thankfully, GARIBALDI’S LOVERS keeps the tone very light indeed as the events unfold in this terrific ensemble performance. All of these twisting plots and subplots intersect in ways that might not seem as mysterious as Soldini hoped, but I’ll admit that I didn’t see the twist with the stork coming. It’s that kind of magic that fuels comedies of this sort. Still, the predictability didn’t reduce my enjoyment of the overall work, and that’s likely because everyone in here turns in some pretty solid work. It’s clear they understood not only their character ‘beats’ but also knew how to deliver them, which serves to keep LOVERS refreshingly consistent from start to finish.
If anything, Soldini invested too much time in the omniscient meanderings of the statues for my tastes. I don’t want to spoil too much of it – suffice it to say that these statues don’t get along but aren’t reduced to ‘stones behaving badly’; it’s just that their story doesn’t mix as well as it should with the real-world counterparts as I think was intended. I think the director was using them to underscore how difficult happiness is (“Why, look! Even the figurines can’t quite get it together!”), but that theme was already established with Teresa’s accounting of the afterlife, where apparently even God himself has adopted a kind of class structure for his angels, favoring one religion over the others.
While I greatly enjoyed the tone of the piece, the only downside I’d confess is that, despite the best attempts of the director, I really only felt a connection with Mastandrea’s Leo. The others – while being nice and/or quirky and/or fairly well developed – are just never given that much to do, nor do they feel fully ‘fleshed’ other than to serve their role in this winning ensemble. This isn’t to say that they don’t turn in great performances because they do; it’s only a response to the lack of depth their circumstances fail to strike a memorable cord with me in particular.
GARIBALDI’S LOVER (2012) is produced by Lumiere & Company, Ventura Film, RSI-Radiotelevisione Svizzera, and a whole host of others (if you’re truly interested in those details, surf on over to IMDB.com for a complete list). DVD distribution is being handled via Film Movement, which provides a terrific assortment of foreign releases. For those needing the clarification, this is an Italian-spoken-language film with English subtitles available (there is no English-dubbed track). As for the technical specifications, only the highest quality sight and sound will be found in bringing this motion picture to life. As is often the case with Film Movement’s releases, there are no legitimate special features to speak of exploring the greater background of the production, but there is a bonus short film from director Anete Melece for those interested.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. As a comedy, GARIBALDI’S LOVERS won’t be to everyone’s tastes, which is sad because those folks will undoubtedly get charmed by the Americanized version (should there every be one). In its current incarnation, it’s definitely more for the indie- and art-scene: a delightfully absurd screwball-style comedy about star-crossed lovers, mismatched romance, and even a stork thrown in for good measure. As hard as it tries to be about the lives of all of these people and (erm) statues, it’s really only properly centered on Mastandrea’s capable shoulders, while everyone else gets some of the finer comic elements: his story provides the soul of the piece, a man doing what he must to keep his family safe and secure who only thinks about his own happiness after-the-fact and eventually stumbles into love.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Film Movement provided me with an advance DVD copy of GARIBALDI’S LOVERS by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.