Though considerably more ambitious in scope, Francesco Munzi once again plays with the image of an immigrant community.

With “The Rest of the Night,” sophomore helmer Francesco Munzi displays a level of deft sophistication and power only hinted at with his debut prize-winner “Saimir.” Though considerably more ambitious in scope, Munzi once again plays with the image of an immigrant community, gradually uncovering the roots of the stereotype while here also stripping bare the parallel world of the hypocritical hosts. Largely set among Romanians struggling to get ahead in northern Italy, pic is likely to do modest local biz after late June opening, but real success may come from fest and arthouse play.

In the wealthy industrialized north, Maria (Laura Vasiliu from “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”) works as a maid for Giovanni Boarin (Aurelien Recoing, dubbed) and his wife Silvana (Sandra Ceccarelli). Latter is a classically neurotic member of the upper middle class, uptight and brittle, whose desires for fulfilment outside the home are roundly discouraged by her husband. When a pair of diamond and pearl earrings go missing, she blames Maria, a Romanian, and Giovanni reluctantly agrees to dismiss the maid over the protests of daughter Anna (Veronica Besa).

With no where to go, Maria lands on the doorstep of ex-b.f. Ionut (Constantin Lupescu), a guy she walked out on for “associating with bad people.” On that score nothing has changed: he’s on the margins of criminality, driven by the need to look after his younger brother Victor (Victor Cosma) and escape their claustrophobic, dingy housing project that’s chock-a-bloc with other immigrants. Sullen Victor isn’t at all pleased with Maria’s return.

Ionut does small jobs with Marco (Stefano Cassetti), a divorced, coked-up ex-con on probation whose limpid blue eyes shine with barely suppressed rage. Led by the bitter Maria into thinking that an evening heist at the Boarin home could yield a handsome take, Ionut and Marco, with Victor as lookout, head over for what’s meant to be a simple break-in.

With great skill, helped by Massimo Fiocchi’s elegant editing, Munzi juggles three storylines that gradually and inexorably come together, leading to an explosion of violence. Case in point illustrating his control of the various strands is the way he follows Marco taking young son Luca (Bruno Festo) out to a bar and then angrily kicking him out when the child grows uncomfortable with his father’s simmering anger. Munzi quietly emphasizes parallels by then cutting to Maria’s arrival at Ionut’s, who also kicks her out until her hard-up story, mixed with lingering passion, leads to a roll in the sack.

Not to be forgotten here are the Boarins, unhappily married and completely wrapped up in their privileged existence. Their house (expertly designed by p.d. Luca Servino) is filled with chic African and Southeast Asian art outwardly signalling their worldliness but revealed as merely the trappings of a well-decorated home for people of their social status, completely unengaged with the issues of “the other” in their own midst, including Silvana’s displeasure with Anna’s choice of a Sicilian as b.f. (Giovanni Morina).

Given the increasing anti-Romanian sentiment within Italy, pic’s timing at home may unfortunately play into the hands of xenophobes incapable of seeing the nuance and sympathy Munzi brings to his characters and their situations. The lack of hope that characterizes all the protags is also the driving force behind their bad decisions, from the immigrants’ inescapable marginalization to Silvana’s inability to be her own person. Only weak link here is a minor side plot involving Giovanni and mistress Francesca (Valentina Cervi), too sketchy to add much to what’s basically an aside that could have been even more briefly noted.

Ceccarelli (“Light of My Eyes”) has her best role in several years as the fragile, tense Silvana, finding the woman underneath the neuroses. Recoing is fine as her cold husband, though the honors go to others, from Cassetti’s explosive Marco, hell-bent on destruction, and Vasiliu’s manipulative Maria to stage actor Lupescu’s determined but lost Ionut.

Final scenes build to a level of tension that’s unbearable in their heralding of tragedy, beautifully understated while never unemotional. The same can be said for his restrained use of music, especially in those final scenes when silence, followed by just a few piano notes, become far more devastating than any heavier score.

Visuals rely on muted colors with a certain amount of graininess, capturing everything from the cold Boarin household to Ionut’s depressing, run-down apartment. City shots were mostly done on location in Turin, though setting is meant to capture the industrialized areas around Brescia, with their large influx of immigrants.

The Rest of the Night

Italy

Production

A 01 Distribution release (in Italy) of a Biancafilm production in collaboration with Rai Cinema production. (International sales: Films Boutique, Berlin.) Produced by Donatella Botti. Directed, written by Francesco Munzi.

Crew

Camera (color), Vladan Radovic; editor, Massimo Fiocchi; music, Giuliano Taviani; production designer, Luca Servino; costume designer, Valentina Taviani; sound (Dolby SRD), Stefano Campus; assistant director, Simona Berenice Vignoli; casting, Massimiliano D'Agostino, Catalin Dordea. Reviewed at International Recording, Rome, May 10, 2008 (in Cannes Film Festival -- Directors' Fortnight). Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Silvana Boarin - Sandra Ceccarelli Giovanni Boarin - Aurelien Recoing Marco Rancalli - Stefano Cassetti Maria - Laura Vasiliu Ionut - Constantin Lupescu Victor - Victor Cosma
With: Valentina Cervi, Teresa Acerbis, Susy Laude, Veronica Besa, Bruno Festo, Giovanni Morina, Maurizio Tabani, Simonetta Benozzo, Nanni Tormen, Corrado Vernisi, Antonio Rosti, Francesca Rizzotti, Matthias Stier. (Italian, Romanian dialogue)

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