Alert the media: Being a mom is stressful. Apparently the protag of “When the Night” didn’t know this until her kid was 2, which is just one of many poorly thought-out or just plain ridiculous situations filling Cristina Comencini’s tale of a vacationing mother falling for a troubled mountain guide. Laughable dialogue is made funnier by an overall earnestness that caused frequent titters at the Venice press screening, though there’s not one intentionally comical line in the whole pic. Local play probably won’t survive an almost certain critical drubbing.
Macugnaga is a small mountain town in Italy’s northwest corner and the holiday destination of Marina (Claudia Pandolfi) and her toddler son Marco (played by triplets). For reasons best known to Comencini, who wrote the novel the pic is based on, Marina has chosen to rent an apartment alone in the remotest house in town. Her husband will collect them in one month, but until then she’s on her own.
The house is owned by Manfred (Filippo Timi), an antisocial guide with a furrowed brow and abandonment issues. Manfred sees that Marina is at her wit’s end with Marco’s crying, and one evening, when he hears the kid suddenly gone quiet after a thud from upstairs, he suspects the worst. After breaking the door down, he finds Marco bleeding from the head and Marina frozen on the floor nearby.
He races them over to the hospital; Marco just needs a few stitches, but Manfred is convinced Marina is a bad mother. He suggests they go together to his brother’s remote mountain hostel so he can keep an eye on them to make sure Marina doesn’t do it again (odd reasoning, but auds are meant to believe he might be attracted to her). Once there, she bonds with Manfred’s sister-in-law, Bianca (Michela Cescon), who tells her Manfred’s background (Mom ran off, wife and kids left) and explains to Marina that, gosh, all mothers get fed up sometimes.
For most viewers, this is hardly a revelation, though Comencini presents it as wisdom from the skies. Does Marina have a life outside this particular moment? The script doesn’t bother to give her a career or background, other family or friends. She’s not in her 20s, but it seems she’s never known anyone to have a baby before.
If Marina is a cipher, Manfred is given too much of a backstory, allowing Comencini to indulge in the most facile pop psychology profiling. Poor Timi has a cloud over his head larger than Pig-Pen’s; if he doesn’t stop accepting these kinds of intense roles, his face will become fixed in a permanent scowl. Pandolfi doesn’t emerge unscathed either, especially in the way she interacts with the kid, appearing as if Marina has been around him for a few weeks rather than two years.
This is the kind of movie where no one turns on the lights in moments of high drama even when it’s sensible and the natural thing to do. “When the Night” what, exactly? Mountain scenes are attractively shot, though more could be expected given the spectacular locale. Music dictates mood rather than suggests it.