A woman prison director cultivates a tough exterior while trying to keep her feminine side alive in “Like the Wind,” a plodding, overly episodic fictionalization of a real jail head who killed herself in 2003. Marco Simon Puccioni’s third feature is just the kind of story Susan Hayward would have tackled 50 years ago, and while Valeria Golino’s got the acting chops, the script could use a dose of melodrama rather than the tired lines offered here. “Wind” may bring a temporary gust of moderate good fortune to Italo screens once released, though offshore chances are slight.
Puccioni (“Shelter”) hasn’t found a way out of a formulaic biopic template, and while he tries to shake things up at the start by cutting between present and past, the device suggests a bolder edit than he delivers. It also doesn’t help that Shigeru Umebayashi’s music anticipates trouble before it happens, spoiling the tension.
In 2003, Armida Miserere (Golino) clearly hasn’t shaken off the murder of her partner, Umberto Mormile (Filippo Timi), who is shown being offed, gangland-style, in his car within the first five minutes. That was in 1990; until then, Umberto directed plays in prison as a form of rehab (even Armida questions whether staging “Woyzeck” in the hoosegow is such a good idea). Theirs is a genuinely loving relationship that’s survived a traumatic miscarriage, and then, literally, bang.
After the murder (apparently Umberto refused to do favors for the ‘Ndrangheta), Armida’s life is divided into two major goals: Find the killers, and be the best damn prison director in the country. She’s shifted from one clink to another, building a rep as a hard-nose capo who brooks no nonsense from inmates or staff; no job is too tough for Armida, whether it’s the island big house of Pianosa, where she’s the only woman with 300 inmates and 700 staffers, or the maximum-security slammer in Palermo where the most dangerous Mafia felons are kept. The memory of Umberto is never far away, and even when she thinks love is possible again with colleague Maurizio (Vanni Bramati), the fates say otherwise.
There are no surprises in “Like the Wind,” especially when there are lines like, “You’ll always protect me, won’t you?” spoken to Umberto after Armida receives a bullet in the mail. To the credit of Golino and Timi, their projection of a loving relationship inspires genuine sympathy for Armida’s suffering, but once that’s tucked away, the pic becomes an endless succession of jails, with a chain-smoking Armida basically doing the same job in each. The final scenes are especially poorly done, splicing shots of the Good Friday procession in Sulmona with Armida’s barely suppressed psychic pain: Are auds meant to compare her to the Virgin of Sorrows?
Lensing is largely composed of steely colors, while lighting occasionally overdoes the atmosphere: A scene in Armida’s office illuminated only by her desk lamp makes no sense except as a way to heighten drama that should be in the script. The story of Miserere and Mormile deserves a more nuanced, in-depth treatment.