The Ideal City


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Luigi Lo Cascio in La Città Ideale
"With a tremendous score by Andrea Rocca and obliquely noirish cityscapes, The Ideal City is heavy on atmosphere."

"Why did you move to Siena?" architect Michele Grassadonia (director Luigi Lo Cascio) is asked early on in this obscure thriller.

"Because it's the ideal city," he answers simply.

Copy picture

It's an answer typical of the plainness that will get him into so much trouble. Grassadonia is not a man who polishes his words. He is polite, perhaps considerate, but straightforward. But honesty and humility are virtues rare enough to invite suspicion. When, late one night, he stops to help a stranger slumped at the side of the road, Grassadonia ignores advice and tells investigators exactly what happened. From there, events spiral rapidly out of his control. Like many a falsely accused cinematic hero, he must solve a mystery in order to survive, but here the esoteric is just as important as the actual: why do people find the truth so hard to believe? What is it about human nature that can tolerate communication only through approved narratives?

It is said by some that Siena takes its name from the Latin Senex and its derivations, implying the ageing process. A passionate environmentalist who strives to live by his creed, Grassadonia is drawn to the idea of antiquity but gradually discovers its relationship with corruption, even as he imagines the decay of a body simply left to nature. The coupling of fleshy and architectural motifs recalls the work of Peter Greenaway, though Lo Cascio's work makes its darkness visible from the start. It's also filled with optical illusions and moments in which life seems to blur into art. Grassadonia's tenuous relationship with a lonely young woman (Catrinel Marlon) contrasts the studied artificiality of his environmentally friendly living space with the natural peculiarity of her statuesque frame, a body which mimics the abstracted, its long lines recalling the towers which seem increasingly to dwarf our beleaguered hero.

With a tremendous score by Andrea Rocca and obliquely noirish cityscapes, The Ideal City is heavy on atmosphere. It's rather lighter on plot, and won't be satisfying for those who like their thrillers to have neat conclusions, but the real focus here is on Grassadonia's personal journey, intellectual and moral, rather than on external events. Under the pressure of his ideals and a city as much imagined as physical, he finds himself collapsing inwardly, struggling to distinguish reality from dreams. Notes of humour in the script seem to be more about highlighting absurdity than lightening the mood. There is little to bring relief. After all, the only way to reach that fabled light is to go deeper into the tunnel.

An intriguing piece of work and particularly impressive for a début feature, this won't be everybody's ideal film but some viewers will adore it.

Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2014
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The Ideal City packshot
An architect's carefully planned life goes awry when he discovers a dead body.

Director: Luigi Lo Cascio

Writer: Virginia Borgi, Massimo Gaudioso, Luigi Lo Cascio, Desideria Rayner

Starring: Luigi Lo Cascio, Aida Burruano, Luigi Maria Burruano, Barbara Enrichi

Year: 2012

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Italy


Italian 2014

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