Neither thriller nor actioner nor psychological drama, “The Horizon of Events” never quite manages to define itself or its aims. Starting with a group of young nuclear physicists working under the mountains of central Italy, pic fizzles out trying to dramatize the self-centered hero’s uncertain moral journey. Second outing for director Daniele Vicari — after his award-winning drag-racing drama “V-Max” — again stars popular thesp Valerio Mastrandrea who, despite looking miscast in the no-action, no-laughs role of an uptight techie, should give pic an initial boost onshore. It is unlikely to fire many reactors elsewhere.
The drama unfolds in two parts: inside and outside the Gran Sasso mountain. In the first half, Max (Mastrandrea) works with his team in an underground nuclear physics research institute on an important experiment called Helios. When he is appointed to lead the project, he realizes they’ll never beat a Japanese team studying the same thing and takes a highly unethical shortcut to win world renown.
His sense of responsibility isn’t much greater with girlfriend Anais (Gwenaelle Simon), a serious-minded French member of the team.
His problems may be traced to his recently deceased father, a dishonest contractor who spent time in jail. Nerdy egotist that he is, Max’s moral stance against his family’s twisted values is the only thing that creates sympathy for him. When he cheats on the Helios experiment, viewers are pretty much left in limbo.
Pic’s second part — like Vicari’s 1998 docu “Men and Wolves” — focuses on the plight of Albanian shepherds on the Gran Sasso who are exploited by local bosses. The radical location switch again shows originality, though a little forced and over-extended.
Following a near-fatal car crash, Max wakes up on top of the mountain in the rude hut of a shepherd, Bajram (Lulzim Zeqja), who has saved his life.
Unfortunately, the muddled story, meant to contrast the poor exploited Albanians to the stressed-out middle-class scientists, really doesn’t make much sense. Using part of the Albanian story as an exciting way to open the film leads to narrative confusion. Finally, pic fails to explore Max’s psychological problems, and ending is so murky viewers can write their own moral.
Tackling his most dramatic role, Mastrandrea seems stripped of his basic tools of trade, like his skillful use of Roman dialect and mannerisms and his devilish charm with the ladies. His fear of getting emotionally close to a woman is implied in the dialogue rather than suggested by the acting. As his tough-minded main girlfriend, Simon gracefully holds together a role pairing brains and femininity, while Zeqja stays on the surface of the tormented shepherd.
Marta Maffucci’s production design expresses the film’s fascination with computer technology and elegant, high-tech laboratory sets. Gherardo Gossi’s lensing emphasizes cold green tones in the lab and natural earthy greens above; more subtly, there are some well-thought-out shots like the neon-lit tunnels on the highway that have a quiet symbolic resonance.