Director Silvio Soldini confirms he’s one of Italy’s rising new talents with “A Soul Split in Two,” about a lonely department store detective’s infatuation with a free-thinking gypsy girl. Sensitive, well-observed film is beautifully lensed and acted, and should find its way to arthouse circuits abroad after multiple fest screenings.
“Soul” is also a film split in two. First half, set in Soldini’s own dark, gloomy Milan, is near perfect in creating the atmosphere of a smooth-as-silk city where individuals who fall out of the system, like Pietro (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), are lost souls.
Pietro, separated, sees his kid only on weekends. His flirtation with a makeup consultant brings him no joy, while his job of catching shoplifters is fast becoming a pathological obsession.
He becomes infatuated with the teenage Pabe (Maria Bako), one of many gypsies living in Italian cities by begging and stealing. He gives her money and falsely testifies in her favor in court to keep her out of jail.
Film’s high point is his plan to kidnap the girl and “marry” her on the road, gypsy-style. Bentivoglio brings a comic intensity to the struggle to make off with Pabe, aided by Giovanni Venosta’s ironic musical score (a kind of gypsy pizzicato), and editor Claudio Cormio’s cutting, which gives pic a nervous energy.
The second part of “Soul” changes register, lighting and mood. The odd couple go south along the Italian coast and get married. Pietro finds work as a truck driver and Pabe as a factory hand and hotel maid. Relatives and friends appear who make life easier. But the cultural divide just won’t go away.
Soldini’s elliptical style, skipping obvious links between scenes (like the preliminaries leading to Pietro and Pabe’s wedding), gives pic a modern, nervous edge. But second half contains a few false steps, and struggles to maintain continuity and flow.
Non-pro Bako, a half-gypsy Hungarian student, brings freshness and conviction to Pabe. Acting in Italian for the first time, she has an unschooled spontaneity which contrasts well with the more measured style of Bentivoglio, whose perf won an acting award at Venice.