I Am Alive

I Am Alive


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

No matter how hard you’ve been hit by the credit crunch, don’t choose the same method of earning a little extra as the hero of the Gentili brothers’ intriguing directorial debut.

Veteran scriptwriters in the Italian film and TV industries, their latest tale concerns Rocco (Massimo de Santis) a young factory worker with a dead-end job and mounting debt problems. When an older, and decidedly dodgy, friend offers him several thousand euros for one night’s work he jumps at the chance.

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But if an offer sounds too good to be true... the job turns out to be standing guard for a wealthy businessman at his plush villa – over the body of his young daughter. Rocco’s mate immediately has a spliff and a beer, then drives off with a girl half his age in tow, leaving the more conscientious Rocco alone.

But not for long. Through the course of the night, the villa is visited by a series of people, each with their own connection to the dead girl. And it soon becomes apparent that the story of her short life is a good deal more complex and messy than the one her father told his hired hands. Her brother was jealous of her status as daddy’s favourite, and her Romanian boyfriend, ostracised by the family, is now bringing up the child she never knew on his own.

As Rocco tries to keep the peace between the warring factions, he finds himself more and more fascinated by the dead girl, and begins to question his own relationships with his girlfriend (a disembodied voice on the other end of a mobile phone) and his long-suffering father (a builder who lives out in the country and is constantly urging his son to come and “work for the family”). As he continues to find out secrets about the girl, her brother and her father, he decides to change from being a passive henchman, and try to do something positive for her family...

It’s a film that constantly keeps you guessing, and builds up a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere. But it suffers from a few logic-defying plot turns. It’s never adequately explained why the girl’s father can’t simply stay with her for the night (though it’s strongly hinted that his wealth, if not exactly ill-gotten, is based on the kind of business that takes place after hours) and at one point Rocco simply leaves the house to grab a sandwich. This enables him to strike up a burgeoning romance with Stefania (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), a waitress at a nearby all-night cafe, and creates a dramatic flashpoint when he returns to find some more unexpected visitors, but you do find yourself wondering, wasn’t there anything in the fridge? And when such banal questions start occurring it’s a sure sign that a film’s lost its hold on you.

It also seems uncertain as to whether it wants to be an existential thriller, jet-black comedy or ‘state of the nation’ comment on Italy’s class divides, anti-immigrant paranoia and obsession with wealth and status. Such a lack of focus is stranger considering the Gentili brothers’ writing track record, but can perhaps be explained by a natural desire to shove as many ideas as possible into their debut, whether or not they actually fit.

But it does yield some effective moments, and they clearly know the characters inside out. The film is, if nothing else, an intriguing snapshot of modern industrial Italy, a world away from the travel guide clichés of Rome or Tuscany. The sense here is of trapped and circumscribed lives and a final shot of the majestic countryside outside the town feels like a breath of fresh air.

De Santis gives an excellent performance as a fundamentally decent, not too bright journeyman worker, simply trying to build a better life in an indifferent and occasionally hostile world; best-known in Italy as the star of the TV series Distretto Di Polizia 8, he has the looks and charisma of a young Gabriel Byrne. And Mezzogiorno makes the best of a somewhat underwritten part, proving once again that she was one of the better things about Mike Newell’s ill-conceived adaptation of Love In The Time Of Cholera.

Getting such a high-profile pair of performers for your debut is no mean feat, and shows the reputation the Gentili brothers have in Italy. I hope we’ll be seeing them behind the camera again, but perhaps next time they’ll play to their strengths and concentrate on a good, solid story rather than simply throwing ideas and incidents at the screen.

Reviewed on: 22 Oct 2008
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A young Italian worker, persuaded by his friend to take on a one-off ‘nightwatchman’ job for easy money, finds the reality is more macabre – and complex – than he expected.

Director: Dino Gentili, Filippo Gentili

Writer: Dino Gentili, Filippo Gentili

Starring: Massimo de Santis, Giovanna Mezzogiorno

Year: 2008

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: Italy


London 2008

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