A little tightening here, a little elaboration there, and helmer Stefano Mordini’s feature debut could rep an engrossing study of a dysfunctional couple unable to pull their lives together. But the flawed script, which practically drops the female protag in the second half, leaves “Smalltown, Italy” feeling too piecemeal. Stylistically accomplished and boasting fine perfs by the leads, pic nevertheless has difficulty sustaining connections with characters who are often sympathetic but whose motivations lack perspective. Scarcity of interesting Italo product will boost chances at the local B.O. and in fest programming, although offshore exposure is likely to be limited.
Considering the title, there’s little of the small-town atmosphere to “Smalltown, Italy,”; industrial sections of the port city of Ravenna don’t exude a provincial feel. Marco (Stefano Accorsi) and Silvia (Valentina Cervi) are young and in love, with two nice kids, a dog and an iguana. Responsibility and maturity, however, aren’t their forte.
Marco works nights at a local factory, and it’s not certain what Silvia does with her days. She rarely opens the mail, and certainly doesn’t open the door when Giulia (Barbara Folchitto) from social services repeatedly rings to ask why little Sonia (Adele Ferruzzi) misses so much school. Instead, Silvia’s mom (Silvia Pasello) gets legal custody of her granddaughter, sending Silvia into a major depression, the signs of which were already apparent had anyone bothered to notice.
Their 3-year-old son Davis (Lorenzo Zanetti) is mostly left to fend for himself, as Mom refuses to leave her bedroom and Dad is away at work. (Why social services took one kid away and left the second is never explained).
Marco invites his Russian colleague Dragan (Ivan Franek, of “Vodka Lemon”) back home, making for awkward silences when they glance at Silvia’s closed door. Then when Marco is at work, out comes a naked Silvia — and a quick cut to Dragan getting it on with his host’s wife.
Nine months later, Marco goes to the hospital to see his new baby, but a glance at the infant is enough to know whose kid it is. Resolutions feel uncertain, and questions pile up. Why doesn’t either parent try to win Sonia back? Why did Silvia have sex with Dragan? Why does the script go off on tangents, such as Marco’s obsession with a psychic’s assistant (Julia Hiebaum)?
Blame cannot be leveled at the thesping. With long unwashed hair and dark rings around her eyes, Cervi movingly portrays Silvia as a deeply depressed young woman unable to grasp both actions and nonactions have consequences. Accorsi is equally fine as Marco, naive and immature and bewildered by his wife’s withdrawal but willing to do anything to win her back.
Helmer Mordini knows how to get close up, with an inquiring camera and occasionally claustrophobic lensing that highlights the sweat just breaking through everyone’s skin. He’s set much of the story during dusk or dawn, and ensured interiors are generally full of dark or underlit spaces to convey a sense Marco and Silvia inhabit a world of their own. Music is generally well-used, including three songs by Scottish band Mogwai.