A murder in a small provincial town yields multiple suspects in "The Girl by the Lake," an engrossing thriller that keeps auds guessing and reps a handsome feature debut for helmer Andrea Molaioli.

A murder in a small provincial town yields multiple suspects in “The Girl by the Lake,” an engrossing thriller that keeps auds guessing and reps a handsome feature debut for helmer Andrea Molaioli. Successfully transferring the novel’s Norwegian setting to the Italian Dolomites, ace scripter Sandro Petraglia captures the mercurial qualities of the central inspector, helped in no small part by Toni Servillo’s nuanced perf. Though pic feels like a pilot for a detective series, resemblances pitch it favorably toward some of the best of the genre. Local biz should be aces, while Euro cable will prove fertile.

An idyllic town surrounded by mountains is shocked by the murder of young and beautiful Anna (Alessia Piovan), found nude on the side of a lake but with no signs of sexual assault or a struggle. Inspector Giovanni Sanzio (Servillo) is called in from the provincial capital, but the victim proves as mysterious as the crime itself.

Suspicion falls on village simpleton Mario (Franco Ravera), then transfers to Anna’s layabout b.f., Roberto (Denis Fasolo), and even her father, Davide (Marco Baliani), whose homemovies of his curvaceous daughter pay more attention to her form than would seem appropriate. Or could it be recently divorced neighbor Corrado Canali (Fabrizio Gifuni), whose autistic child died in a freak accident not too long ago?

The more Sanzio and local cop Siboldi (Fausto Maria Sciarappa) dig, the more questions arise. In the best tradition of complex cops in good miniseries, the hard-edged but emotionally involved Sanzio is coping with his own unexplored issues, including a teenage daughter (Giulia Michelini) and a wife (Anna Bonaiuto, in a cameo) suffering from Alzheimer’s. Unsurprisingly, the original detective is a recurrent figure in novelist Karin Fossum’s Inspector Conrad Sejer crime series.

Molaioli sets a troubled tone from the start, suggesting that this idyllic landscape holds disturbing possibilities. There’s a sense of stories waiting to be told, and side characters in need of fleshing out, that reinforces the miniseries feel. Certain roles and side plots do feel extraneous, especially Bonaiuto’s brief appearance, in a storyline bearing a marked resemblance to “Away From Her.”

As expected, Servillo gets completely under the skin of the inspector, radiating depth while maintaining a hardened exterior. He’s joined by the cream of Italo thesps, including Valeria Golino in a brief part as Canali’s estranged wife. Argentinian lenser Ramiro Civita (“Whisky Romeo Zulu”) gives pic a properly cold light, suggesting the almost quivering anxieties behind the tranquil mountain exterior.

The Girl by the Lake

Italy

Production

An Indigo Film production, in collaboration with Medusa Film, Sky. (International sales: Medusa Film, Rome.) Produced by Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima. Directed by Andrea Molaioli. Screenplay, Sandro Petraglia, based on the novel "Don't Look Back" by Karin Fossum.

Crew

Camera (color), Ramiro Civita; editor, Giogio Franchini; music, Teho Teardo; production designer, Alessandra Mura; costume designer, Jessica Zambelli; sound (Dolby Digital), Alessandro Zanon, Silvia Moraes; assistant director, Loredana Conte; casting, Annamaria Sambucco. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Critics' Week), Sept. 2, 2007. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Omero Antonutti, Fabrizio Gifuni, Valeria Golino, Nello Mascia, Marco Baliani, Giulia Michelini, Fausto Maria Sciarappa, Denis Fasolo, Franco Ravera, Sara D'Amario, Heidi Caldart, Alessia Piovan, Nicole Perrone, Enrico Cavallero.
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