Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Nightbus is a distinctly old-fashioned seeming noirish caper movie. While it's amusing enough in its own way, it never quite manages to thrill, and while some of that disconnect is a product of translation, a lot of it is the tendency towards formula and cliche.

Valerio Mastandrea is Franz, a night bus driver on the airport route who owes a lot of money from poker debts. He's stumbled upon by the variously named Leila (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), a thief who has accidentally become wrapped up in a secretive blackmail deal involving the President. As the film unfolds, a secret war between factions of the Security Services, a series of confusions among the various criminal fraternities whose activites have been touched upon by the deal, and Leila's past all complicate the situation.

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Loosely based on the novel of the same name (Notturno Bus) by Giampiero Rigosi, the film seems to have been put through a writing mill, with a co-writer and four additional story credits for a plot that already looked complicated. It would appear there's actually been some simplification for the screen, and quite a bit of updating. The opening credits appear to have been transported untouched from the 1970s until the camera lights upon the distinctive shape of a Motorola mobile. A crucial document has become a microchip, modern telephony is well integrated, but there's still an old-fashioned feel.

It's competently directed by Davide Marengo, the cast as a whole do a good job, in particular the somewhat bumbling duo of Garofano (Francesco Pannofino) and Diolaiti (Roberto Citran). As they try to hone in on the blackmail scheme they're continually outclassed by Ennio Fantastichini as Matera, a master spy in service of the President whose tradecraft almost puts Jason Bourne and the titular Ronin to shame. In particular, his emergency dressing gown stands out.

The biggest problem Nightbus has isn't that it's Italian, it's that it's not very good and it's Italian. There's humour, but a lot of it wouldn't seem to translate. The cast all have talent, but they're near enough unknown outside Italy, and from the amount of work they've done they'll have at least some name recognition there. There's always a vague feeling that something's being missed. It's not that Nightbus is a bad film - far from it, it's a well made, enjoyable diversion - but it falls short because it's not quite good enough to surmount the language barrier.

Audiences tend to be spoiled by foreign cinema because it's usually only the best works that cross the language barrier. Film, after all, is a primarily visual medium, but to get the most from a picture it helps to have a shared interpretative framework. Avoiding digressions into critical theory, it's enough to say that things that require an effort of their audience ought to repay it. Nightbus is passable, but it will leave most viewers at the side of the road.

Reviewed on: 02 Jun 2008
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A night bus driver with heavy debts meets a young woman on the run from spies, with secrets of her own.
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Director: Davide Marengo

Writer: Fabio Bonifacci and Giampiero Rigosi, based on the book by Giampiero Rigosi.

Starring: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Valerio Mastandrea, Ennio Fantastichini, Anna Romantowska, Roberto Citran, Francesco Pannofino, Ivan Franek, Antonio Catania, Iaia Forte, Marcello Mazzarella, Marek Barbasiewicz, Renato Nicolini, Paolo Calabresi, Massimo De Santis, Manuela Morabito, Alice Palazzi, Mario Rivera

Year: 2006

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Italy, Poland


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