A refreshingly resourceful operation from Italy’s struggling indie sector, “Bits and Pieces” is a sprawling ensemble piece with 130 speaking parts, around 65 substantial characters and some 30 intertwined stories. Peopled by an army of the country’s best-known actors and directors, this compelling fresco of 24 hours in the life of the Eternal City skillfully blends everyday banalities with momentous events, applying healthy doses of affection, humor and cynicism to depict a society being slowly consumed by malaise.
Following its Berlin Panorama bow, further fest exposure seems assured, and while commercial life beyond that appears less certain, the film’s universality, its pleasurably modulated tone and its flavorful love-hate portrait of contempo Roman life should lead to foreign-language TV sales and perhaps some scattered arthouse bookings.
Inevitably, the pic’s structure and its somewhat bitter take on human nature seem to echo “Short Cuts.” But the original script, titled “Figures in a Landscape,” predates the Robert Altman feature, having been presented in Italy’s Solinas script competition in 1991. Director Antonello Grimaldi acknowledges that the project’s true model was the earlier Altman pic “Nashville,” though the stories glimpsed here are more fleeting and fragmentary.
Time frame runs from one sunset to the next, opening and closing with a jogger (Ivano Marescotti) solemnly going through his warm-up while contemplating the drop from his terrace to the street below. The same man figures throughout as a kind of silent witness, observing characters who reappear repeatedly.
The action eavesdrops in seemingly indiscriminate fashion on the day’s events , becoming gradually more intriguing after a slow start. A Chinese restaurant is held up by masked robbers, causing a birthday guest to drop dead in his cake; a businessman (Roberto Citran) accompanies his flirtatious teenage cousin (Asia Argento) back to Rome after an out-of-town wedding, each of them leaving an unexpected impression on the other; the robbers make a failed attempt to unload their loot on an arrogant shyster (Luca Barbareschi).
While some of the mini-narratives are more successful than others, the film scores more hits than misses, especially in its casual assessment of the impatience, stress, self-centeredness and underlying cruelty ruling most of its subjects.
A mechanic (Silvio Orlando) comments with apparent sympathy on the tragic death of a neighbor before revealing his plan to make a killing on the business of the deceased. A sweetly smiling traffic warden (Margherita Buy) delights in duping car owners into thinking they have avoided a parking ticket, which she then produces.
Elsewhere, the vignettes become much darker. Death, suicide, brutality, infidelity, extortion and lies all figure, often represented in almost innocuous , commonplace terms. Dialogue offhandedly reveals biased attitudes so inherent they hardly seem like prejudices. The script’s main merit is its adroit introduction of so many negative qualities without becoming an accusatory tirade.
While lighter episodes are effectively balanced against dramatic counterparts , the film’s more dramatically complex moments are generally less remarkable than its everyday truths, and several of the more fanciful strands seem a little overworked.
Aficionados of recent Italian cinema will have a field day spotting the many familiar faces: Director Dario Argento pops up on a park bench confessing to a Franciscan monk his childhood fear that being excessively good would prompt a visit from the Virgin Mary.
Several cast members stand out. The contrasting styles of Asia Argento and Citran are deftly matched; Sergio Rubini has a delightful scene as a double-parked taxi driver making a peace offering of pizza to the merciless Buy; Barbareschi’s contemptuousness is riveting, and character actor Carlo Croccolo is touching as a victim of solitude.
The freshness of most of the cast’s work helps maintain a lighter mood than much of the material would suggest, buoyed also by the rich variation of rhythms in editor Angelo Nicolini’s cutting.
Shooting took place over an 18-month period, coordinated by producers Domenico Procacci andMaurizio Totti. Made on a budget of under $ 1 million (with most of the cast participating gratis), the film’s look is sharp and uniform. Lenser Alessandro Pesci captures the distinctive light of Rome at various times of the day, and while the events ostensibly could take place in any Italian city , the capital’s landmarks, attitude and renowned chaotic atmosphere are essential features here.
Italian title comes from a song (heard over the end credits) by the late Rino Gaetano, which means “The Sky Is Bluer and Bluer.”