Finely-played exploration of a fundamentally good marriage during an unanticipated bad patch,

A perceptively written, finely-played exploration of a fundamentally good marriage during an unanticipated bad patch, Silvio Soldini’s “Days and Clouds” is an absorbing, deliberate drama about choices and commitment that could, with some TLC, snag upscale arthouse auds in the wake of Rome fest preem and late October domestic theatrical rollout.

As with the proverbial box of chocolates, one never knows what one’s gonna get when a Soldini pic unwraps. Since breaking through to the international market with 2000 oldster romance “Bread and Tulips,” the talented helmer has dabbled confidently in heartfelt immigrant drama (“Burning in the Wind”) and gaudy romantic comedy (“Agata and the Storm”).

Veering now into measured naturalism, “Days and Clouds” — billed pointedly as “other scenes from a marriage” — continues to highlight the craftsmanship of his screenwriting bullpen and felicity with thesping talent.

After years of hard work, Elsa and Michele (Margherita Buy, Antonio Albanese) have a life of luxury and security in Genoa. Or so they think: The morning after a raucous birthday party Michele’s thrown for Elsa, he announces he’s been jobless for a few months, and they must downsize their life.

On the verge of a degree in art history, Elsa resolutely shifts her focus to searching for a desk job and unexpectedly finds the new gig yields a romantic opportunity.

For his part, Michele stumbles into a modestly promising renovation sideline with sanguine new pals Luciano (Antonio Francini) and Vito (Soldini regular Giuseppe Battiston), before nearly succumbing to self-pity when the venture dissolves.

And their relationship with their 20-year-old daughter Alice (Alba Rohrwacher), already stretched thin, threatens to snap.

Yet Soldini’s message of hope, presented via the fine visual metaphor of Elsa’s continuing restoration of a rare fresco, is that elusive new joys may lie in wait beneath drab surfaces. Deliberately paced and naturally limned by all, the family’s ups and downs make for a satisfying journey.

Tech package is marked by an across-the-board verisimilitude in sets, costumes and music. Seemingly effortless location lensing is from regular Daniel Burman collaborator Ramiro Civita, whose fly-on-the-wall approach is in perfect synch with pic’s modest, fully realized goals.

Days and Clouds

Italy - Switzerland

Production

A Warner Bros. release (in Italy) of an Adriana Chiesa presentation of a Lumiere & Co. (Italy)/AMKA Films (Switzerland) production. (International sales: Adriana Chiesa Enterprises, Rome.) Produced by Lionello Cerri. Directed by Silvio Soldini. Screenplay, Doriana Leondeff, Francesco Piccolo, Federica Pontremoli, Soldini.

Crew

Camera (color), Ramiro Civita; editor, Carlotta Cristiani; music, Giovanni Venosta; production designer, Paola Bizzari; costume designers, Silvia Nebiolo, Patrizia Mazzon; sound (Dolby Digital), Francois Musy; assistant director, Cinzia Castania. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept.ember 11, 2007. (Also in Rome Film Festival.) Running time: 119 MINS.

With

Margherita Buy, Antonio Albanese, Giuseppe Battiston, Alba Rohrwacher, Antonio Francini. (Italian dialogue)
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