La Passione

La Passione


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Il maestro!" cries ex-con Ramiro (Giuseppe Battiston) when he first meets film director Gianni (Silvio Orlando). This is his hero, his inspiration, a man whose prison class taught him to love (if not exactly to excel at) acting and set him on the road to the religious conversion that cured him of his kleptomania.

Gianni is a man he adores; but in the real world, the great director is not what he used to be. Out of ideas, bullied by a frustrated agent and fickle stars, he has retreated to the Tuscan village where he rents out a holiday home, the flat he once bought for a mistress who has since abandoned him. But even there, things don't go right. He's as bad a landlord as he is a writer. The pipes have leaked. A priceless historic fresco in an adjoining building has been destroyed. He could be reported. Labelled a cultural vandal, he would have no career left in the arts. Nobody in the community likes him. What can he do?

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There's only one way out. The town's mayor offers to let him off the hook if he will agree to direct its annual Passion Play. The trouble is, there's nobody there with any talent and the play has to be ready in five days.

If you think you've seen stories like this before, forget it. This is no fluffy, Hollywood-style charmer where everything will come together at the end and there will be fireworks and smiles and redemption. Gianni has been set an impossible task and he knows it. Meanwhile, he is supposed to be writing a script for a big name actress and is forced to find excuses for why he cannot return to Rome.

The townspeople, though they gradually warm to him, are not the whimsical daydreamers you might expect, enjoying life at a gentler pace. Rather they are loud, demanding, and even aggressive. It's as if they don't know they're supporting characters, each delivering a charismatic turn destined to place them centre-stage. Only the gentle, devoted Ramiro has any real faith that they can overcome their problems, and he too will suffer in the process.

Mingling the enchanting imagery of many a pastoral epic with the sort of grim wit one might associated with Todd Solondz or Aki Kaurismaki, Carlo Mazzacurati has pulled off something that it would be fair to call unique. It's a film with no conventional heroes and no conventional successes, yet its many small cruelties and sometimes absurd humour give way in the end to an unexpected warmth, a sense that something important has been achieved even in the process of everything going wrong.

Orlando makes Gianni a battered and sometimes unpleasant yet sympathetic hero. Moments of raucous comedy sustain a sometimes meandering script and throughout there is a feeling that we are in the realm of the possible which gives this a depth missing from similarly themed films. The result is a curious film that won't work for everyone but that some viewers will fall in love with.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2011
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A film director struggling for inspiration is blackmailed into directing a Passion Play in a small Tuscan town.
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Director: Carlo Mazzacurati

Writer: Umberto Contarello, Doriana Leondeff

Starring: Silvio Orlando, Giuseppe Battiston, Corrado Guzzanti, Cristiana Capotondi, Stefania Sandrelli, Kasia Smutniak

Year: 2010

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: Italy


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