Working-class life in today’s Tuscany is at the center of “Living It Up,” a romantic comedy of rare naturalness, set ina rural world of steel mills and supermarkets. A likable film with a strong social background, Paolo Virzi’s directing debut, which preemed in the Venice fest’s Panorama section, promises to be a fest fave, though its lack of big comic stars may cramp domestic B.O. revenue.
When Bruno (Claudio Bigagli of “Mediterraneo” fame) and Mirella (Sabrina Ferilli) get married in 1989, things are going well at the steel mill. Three years later, the mill is in trouble and Bruno is one of hundreds to be laid off his job. “The easy life” of pic’s Italian title ironically refers to what is waiting for workers who get the pink slip.
At the same time, Bruno’s marriage hits the skids when Mirella lets herself be seduced by a regional TV host who goes by the moniker Gerry Fumo (Massimo Ghini). Bruno is the last to find out. In a painful confrontation, Bruno faces his wife and asks her to leave. She moves in with the handsome, babyish Fumo, while secretly pining for Bruno.
Bruno’s plans to open a small steel plant with some friends fizzle out, and he suffers a serious heart attack. It brings him back together with Mirella, but their reunion is only temporary. In the end they amicably agree to go their own ways, and begin rebuilding their lives at a distance.
Though the story sounds downbeat, pic’s tone is generally light. Script by Virzi and Francesco Bruni anchors the dramatic events in such a tightly woven social context that the characters seem protected from their own fatal mistakes. Bruno has the solidarity of his buddies at the plant, as well as the unrequited love of co-worker Rossella (Paola Tiziana Cruciani), a labor organizer and party militant.
Red flags fly proudly over Tuscany’s leftist workers, who nevertheless have a hard time adapting to changing times and job cutbacks. By leaving Bruno and her job in the supermarket for a middle-class life with Fumo, Sabrina loses the relaxed camaraderie of the old gang. Without hammering his point, Virzi makes it clear that she has taken a step into boredom and emptiness.
Newcomer Ferilli (last seen in Marco Ferreri’s “Diary of a Madman”) makes a sparkling, larger-than-life heroine. Her innocent voluptuousness, recalling Italo actresses of Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida’s day, is cloaked in modest attire, revealed at most in a tacky see-through bra. Yet Sabrina conquers less through her looks than with her good humor and moral scruples.
Bigagli plays up Bruno’s gentle side, which explains both his attraction for Sabrina and why the passion has drained out of their marriage. The explosion, when it comes, is all the more dramatic.
Virzi shows good directing control in this first stint, and his background in screenwriting is evident in pic’s smooth narrative.