A small child's attempts at murder are explored, explained and promptly exonerated in thriller.

A small child’s attempts at murder are explored, explained and promptly exonerated in Italian helmer Felice Farina’s atmospheric thriller “The Physics of Water.” Pic wavers uncertainly between paranormal horror and psychological realism, as its pint-size would-be killer shuttles between pathology and normalcy. Not that Farino should necessarily amp up the monster-moppet quotient, but some tonal consistency would have been nice. Shot five years ago, the pic was recently snagged by Renzo Rossellini’s new production outfit, but theatrical prospects look dim.

No dithering Hamlet, 7-year-old Alessandro (Lorenzo Vavassori) acts decisively when his uncle Claudio (Claudio Amendola) tries to take over his dead brother’s house and wife. Plotting murder, Alessandro even rehearses and tapes his professions of innocence in the pic’s creepiest scene. But the boy’s plan backfires when his beloved mother (Paola Cortellesi) impulsively joins Claudio in the car whose brakes he has sabotaged. Helped by a mysterious police detective (Stefano Dionisi) in a huge hangar-like structure, Alessandro relives the trauma of his father’s untimely death. Magnificent production and set design almost compensate for the pic’s squeamish unwillingness to delve deeper into childhood’s dark side after effectively evoking it.

The Physics of Water

Italy

Production

A Nina Film, Rossellini Film & TV production. (International sales: Rossellini Film & TV, Rome.) Directed by Felice Farina. Screenplay, Eleonora Fiorini, Mauro Casiraghi, Felice Farina.

Crew

Camera (color), Pietro Sciortino; editor, Esmeralda Calabria; music, Franco Piersanti; production designer, Gianni Silvestri; set designer, Paolo Innocenzi; costume designer, Filippo Porcari. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (competing), Sept. 4, 2009. (Also in Karlovy Vary Film Festival.) Original title: La fisica dell'acqua. Italian dialogue. Running time: 76 MIN.

With

Claudio Amendola, Paola Cortellesi, Stefano Dionisi, Lorenzo Vavassori, Lorenzo Pavanello.
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