The Jewel

The Jewel

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In 2003, Italian dairy giant Parmalat went bankrupt, owing around £13bn. A fraud trial saw its chairman, Castilo Tanzi, sentenced to ten years in prison. It was one of the first indications of the coming international scandal in finance. Now Andrea Moleioli has fictionalised the story, creating a taut thriller with dark comedic undertones that serves as a warning of further disasters to come.

Remo Girone is Amanzio, an ageing business owner hesitant to change his way of working to suit what board members tell him are the ways of the modern world. His choice of product lines is inspired by wartime memories and he dislikes the idea of selling parts of an Italian business to Americans, making him an initially sympathetic character but one vulnerable to pressure. Alongside him is Ernesto (Toni Servillo), a notoriously aggressive manager who instinctively feels everybody is out to cheat him; and then there's Amanzio's niece, the ravishingly beautiful Laura (Sarah Felberbaum), whose struggles against sexism encourage the viewer to take her side but whose smooth business confidence is just as dangerous to friends as foes. She once worked, we are told, for Morgan Stanley.

Italy is the classical home of the diabolical morality tale, and beneath all the sophisticated modern trappings that's exactly what we have here. The temptations of finance might be said to represent evil in its purest, most abstract form. As always, the danger is insidious, initially seeming like a minor act that might be justified by its beneficial consequences. Struggling to stay afloat? "We can get the share price overinflated and then get the capital from there." A series of such apparently magical solutions lead the protagonists into deeper and deeper trouble.

If you're going to make a film about the deceptive gloss of high finance, you'd better make sure it looks like a jewel. Here the distinctive cinematography that made such an impression in Molaioli's previous work, The Girl By The Lake, gives urban interiors a luxurious quality that complements beautifully designed sets. The costuming is superb and there is immaculate attention to detail throughout that puts The Jewel on a level with the best of other recent Italian offerings like Il Divo. Undercutting all this is an equally black sense of humour. This may be the story of one company, but it's also the story of the economic crisis for which we are all paying the price, and as a piece of observation on what went wrong, The Jewel is priceless.

Reviewed on: 28 Jan 2012
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A gripping conspiracy thriller story about the rise and fall of a major Italian food company, due to mismanagement, dodgy financial deals, shady politics and embezzlement.
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Director: Andrea Molaioli

Writer: Andrea Molaioli, Ludovica Rampoldi, Gabriele Romagnoli

Starring: Toni Servillo, Remo Girone, Sarah Felberbaum

Year: 2011

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: Italy


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