A parent’s nervous breakdown leaves a teenager overburdened by adult responsibilities in the Italian feature “Chlorine.” Lamberto Sanfelice’s debut is a well-crafted if incompletely satisfying drama whose character study intrigues but ultimately feels somewhat frustratingly underdeveloped. New-director showcases should welcome this promising effort nonetheless, with modest tube and download sales in select territories signaled further down the road.
Seventeen-year-old Jenny (Sara Serraiocco) has the narrow, almost obsessive focus of most aspiring athletes at her level — she’s part of a junior national synchronized swim team and can scarcely think about anything but training for their next competition. But all that is completely thrown off-track for the time being when her father, Alfio (Andrea Vergoni), suffers a mental collapse, presumably triggered by his wife’s (unexplained) death, which costs him his job and their home in seaside Ostia.
Along with Jenny’s 8-year-old brother, Fabrizio (Anatol Sassi), they’re forced to relocate to Dad’s native home in the mountains up north. There, an uncle (Giorgio Colangeli) is willing to let them stay at his unoccupied vacation cabin, but unwilling to involve himself further. Thus, Jenny finds herself parenting a younger brother who’s acting out from fear of further abandonment, minding a near-catatonic father, and working to support them all as a maid at a nearby off-season ski resort.
She enrolls Fabri in the nearest school — ducking a suspicious headmistress’ questions about their murky domestic situation — and has Dad taken off her hands when his behavior grows so alarming that a local monastery accepts him into temporary care. But none of this gets her any closer to
rejoining her swim team, as much as she strains to maintain a personal training regime (including secretly using the hotel’s indoor pool).
This serious-minded young heroine, who’s not without her playful moments but is largely defined by anger over the position she’s been cornered into, is portrayed in committed fashion by Serraiocco (“Salvo”). But with relatively little explication and minimal dialogue in Sanfelice and Elisa Amoruso’s screenplay, Jenny remains a bit too much of a cipher — when her initially hostile interactions with an older emigre resort worker (Ivan Franek) suddenly grows warmer, even sexual, we haven’t the faintest idea how that came about. Other narrative elements are overly cryptic as well, making for a simple story whose gaps feel less mysterious or evocative than simply neglected. At the end we’re meant to understand Jenny’s ordeal has irrevocably changed her, but neither actress nor helmer seems inclined to reveal just how.
Sanfelice’s assured direction, however, makes everything here seem quite deliberate — even if the sum effect has considerably less impact than Ursula Meier’s “Sister” (2012), with which it shares a similar setting and some story aspects. Design contributions have an artfully spare feel, with no original score utilized and an uncluttered look in tune with the stark, wintry landscapes. The only showy elements are the strikingly busy synchronized-swimming practice sequences, largely filmed from an underwater perspective.