Familiar themes of loneliness and alienation are explored with originality, economy and firm control in “The Man Who Checks the Meter.” The dark tale of an obese misfit pushed to explosion point overcomes a fragile script with astute assembly of its fragmentary narrative. Resourcefully made on a lean budget, this melancholy drama should fit snugly into festival frames and marks an auspicious debut for director Stefano Incerti.
The latest name to emerge from the growing ranks of the so-called Neapolitan new wave, Incerti has worked as an assistant to many of the most interesting new filmmakers coming out of the south. Among them are Sicilian Francesco Calogero and, from Naples, Pappi Corsicato, Enzo Decaro and, most notably, Mario Martone (“L’Amore molesto”), whose work is strongly echoed in aspects of Incerti’s first feature.
Opening scene has hulking Crescenzio (Antonino Iuorio), who reads gas meters for a living, blowing up a building. Story then backtracks to take in his morose existence, briefly illuminated by his feelings for similarly withdrawn Giuliana (Elodie Treccani). She works with his more spirited brother Beniamino (Roberto De Francesco) in an electricalrepair shop run by an arrogant shyster (Renato Carpentieri).
Incerti and co-scripter Gianni Molino are less concerned with plot than with establishing a world of suffocating isolation. Crescenzio’s parents appear concerned about his glum disposition but unsure of what to do. Likewise, cocksure Beniamino is casually attentive to his brother’s problems but lacks the emotional equipment to really help. Despite obviously being unattracted to him, Giuliana halfheartedly responds to Crescenzio’s affections, seemingly motivated by sensitivity and parallel solitude.
Her acceptance of him, however, has clear-cut limits. Giuliana has her own problems with the insistent advances of the boss, which force her to turn to Beniamino for protection, causing a rift between the brothers. When Giuliana is brutally raped by her employer, a fuse ignites inside Crescenzio, but the resulting violence has wider repercussions than he planned.
Considering the unrelenting gloom of the scenario, pic is remarkably light on sturm und drang thanks largely to two sharply judged performances. Carpentieri endows the thoroughly unpleasant, sinister boss with solidly human dimensions, and De Francesco gives off real sparks as Crescenzio’s bullish, womanizing brother.
But the film fails to create three-dimensional characters in Crescenzio and Giuliana. Treccani almost compensates for this with her brooding presence, but Iuorio remains a purely physical emblem of unease, failing to inspire much direct sympathy or concrete understanding of the character.
Set in an uncharacteristically somber Naples that’s part Third World bazaar and part anonymous, antiquated ghetto, the film features lensing by Pasquale Mari that plays with dramatic lighting contrasts in a way that recalls “L’Amore molesto.” The intricate cutting of quick, concise scenes by Martone’s regular editor, Jacopo Quadri, enhances the similarity to that director’s work, as do the strident bursts of strings on the soundtrack.
A fine example of the micro-budget film production operations springing up far from the industry’s major center in Rome, the feature is a joint initiative between Sicilian group Nutrimenti Terrestri and Naples-based Teatro Uniti, of which Martone is a founding member. Both outfits began in theater production and now divide their activity between legit and film work.