This Italian-language turn by eternal maverick Jon Jost presents a far from definitive lowdown on the country’s kickback phenomenon. Stalwart devotees might admire the film’s technique, but most auds will find its messianic tone and stolid rhythms hard to swallow.
Jost’s elegant but dramatically comatose meditation on dishonesty more or less fingers the entire Italo population for the decades of graft and thievery that brought Italy to its knees. The idea of innate venality and the look-out-for-No. 1 mentality is hardly new, and its exploration here is limited to a stream of supercilious, often trite pontification. The film drew a hostile response from Italian critics at this fall’s Venice fest.
Jost eschews a delineated narrative, preferring to create a rapport between his actors and steer them in whatever improvisational direction he chooses. But what works in his impressive U.S. indie pix doesn’t work here: The rudderless cast shows little sign of connecting with one another, their director or the material.
The closest thing to a narrative thrust comes from the plight of Costanza (Eliana Miglio). Due to her infringement of laws on the declaration of rent as income, she is unable to throw non-paying Argentine tenant Cecilia (Vittoria Arenillas) out of her apartment. After an opening 50 minutes virtually without incident, things threaten to start moving when house-bound, depressive Cecilia gets dressed and heads outdoors.
A pair of misjudged dramatic set pieces follows. The first has Cecilia’s disgruntled b.f. (Lino Salemme) cycling out to the site of Pasolini’s murder to rant about the sorry state of Italy. The leaden scene is a far cry from the understated eloquence of Nanni Moretti’s similar pilgrimage in “Dear Diary.”
Next up, Costanza goes with her chum (Lucia Gardin) to the legal office of the latter’s uncle (Pier Paolo Capponi). After pulling strings to budge Cecilia, the corrupt lawyer takes out a pistol and shoots himself before the barely startled girls.
Not one figure is established as a character. As a consequence, their laborious spiels on various aspects of the central theme, in excruciatingly long sequences, seem disconnected and superficial, delivering faux profundity instead of valid reflection.
The film’s grounding in recent political events comes via snippets of radio broadcasts detailing kickback arrests and terrorist attacks. More subtle is the geographical scene-setting: Jost’s loose-limbed camerawork ably avoids cliche in capturing Rome and its surrounds, with an architectural focus that’s frequently more illuminating than its human one. Jon A. English’s constant blitz of music over almost every scene quickly grates.