The perceptiveness and honesty former documaker Mimmo Calopresti brought to his 1996 Cannes competitor, “The Second Time,” are less apparent in his somewhat artificial sophomore feature, “The Word Love Exists.” This gentle Italian drama about an unhappy neurotic driven by her belief in love emulates the microscopic studies of human emotions regularly undertaken by French filmmakers. But despite a credible cast that should secure fest exposure, pic lacks the naturalness and texture of its Gallic counterparts, and is hampered by overworked dialogue and humor that surfaces too rarely.
The love in question is hungered for by phobia-ridden, 30-year-old Angela (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) as a remedy for the other gnawing obsession of her life, solitude. Unable to communicate with her well-heeled mother (Daria Nicolodi) and untroubled by the need to work, she lives an empty existence between appointments with her analyst (Calopresti), who’s later revealed to be dealing with his own uncertainties.
One day, she encounters divorced cello teacher Marco (Fabrizio Bentivoglio). Taking as signs the color of his shirt and floor-number of his apartment (red and three both representing love), Angela begins pursuing him, anonymously sending excerpts from Japanese love poems. But Marco misconstrues the situation, thinking the notes are from one of his students. Angela’s precarious equilibrium is further upset when she has an argument with her analyst and her building administration attaches a number 11 (signifying solitude) to her door. She checks herself into a psych clinic.
The whole depiction of the clinic rings false, but the film gains a welcome element of humor in Angela’s friendship with fellow patient Sara (Marina Confalone, one of Italy’s best and most underused character actresses). This paves the way for a surprisingly satisfying final act in which Angela and Marco cross paths again, with the hope they may finally connect.
Bruni Tedeschi and Bentivoglio sketch their characters’ very human strengths and weaknesses in quiet, understated terms. Angela’s surface fragility masks a tenacious will to communicate and her romantic obsession — based on instinct alone — acquires do-or-die purposefulness. Absent-minded Marco is equally needy, but passive and irresolute next to his more demonstrative teenage daughter (Emanuela Macchniz). But both main characters move within counterfeit contexts. Angela flounders in ineffectual scenes with women friends who add nothing but volume, and her rather formal exchanges with her mother seem laborious and dramatically affected. There is no real sense of growth or momentum to the very talky drama, and too many scenes are without any real impact.
Shot in simple, unfussy style by Alessandro Pesci, the film’s focus is primarily its dialogue; but this lacks the ease and spontaneity one would expect from a screenplay that partly evolved during shooting with the actors’ contributions. Gerard Depardieu, originally slated to be involved in producing the pic, appears briefly as a compassionate lawyer who indulges Sara’s deluded whims.