Charting the bumpy course of an on-again, off-again 20-year relationship through 12 chapters that recount key moments of its evolution in extended takes without cutaways, “A Love” could have been little more than a stylistic exercise. But this ultimately moving drama, anchored by two nuanced, sympathetic performances, uncovers surprising layers of depth and emotion. Given only a marginal release in Italy last year, the small but satisfying indie production drew an enthusiastic response in Rotterdam and now looks set for further fest attention.
Writer-director Gianluca Maria Tavarelli has ably condensed the relationship between his two protagonists into a series of crucial — often while seeming quite inconsequential — junctions, at the same time developing their love story into a full-bodied narrative. While it occasionally suffers from the over-earnestness that burdens many contemporary Italian dramas, the film’s rich variation of tones and the charming, feel-good optimism of its closing act more than compensate.
Sara (Lorenza Indovina) and Marco (Fabrizio Gifuni) are introduced in 1998 in mid-argument as Sara bitterly insists it’s time to call it quits. A hidden photographer takes pictures during the edgy encounter. Action then rewinds 16 years to 1982 and the start of the romance, when the 20-year-old university students connect on their first date. The film then leapfrogs ahead by one- or two-year intervals, through periods of harmony and happiness to difficult times in which first one then the other decides to take time out.
Chronicling not only the ebb and flow of love between the partners, the drama also covers with economy their transition from carefree college years to adulthood and responsibility, letting go of idealistic dreams to edge into real life. This aspect is most successful when the focus remains personal. Attempts to touch on social change, on Italian politics of the period or international events such as the Gulf War or the fall of the Berlin Wall seem at times a little forcibly wedged into the narrative……
The relationship appears to be over when Marco brutally dismisses Sara from his life in 1991, prompting her to take off for three years to Argentina. But their reunion soon after her return reveals she’s not over him, despite his having married in the meantime. They keep track of each other through mutual friends, whose relationship and career problems provide additional dramatic texture. When they eventually meet again, Sara and Marco acknowledge to each other that their desires have been compromised and their lives have gone in unplanned directions.
By 1997, the couple are meeting for regular trysts in an apartment but going home to their respective spouses. While they try to pretend this constitutes a normal, fulfilling relationship, Sara in particular is dissatisfied and wants out again. The photographer of the opening chapter is revealed to be a private investigator employed by Sara’s husband (producer Gianluca Arcopinto in a surly turn), who assaults Marco. Delightful closing scene has the couple meeting by chance at a New Year’s Eve party ringing in the year 2000.
Given the familiarity of most of the situations here, one of the principal achievements of Tavarelli’s intelligent script is its avoidance of cliche. And despite the episodic structure — with each chapter punctuated by slightly precious, arty 30-second bits of animation — the intense story maintains an even flow and is consistently involving. The accomplished leads deliver frequent moments of painful veracity, subtly capturing the often unpredictable shifts in feelings, though while Gifuni just about gets away with it, Indovina slightly strains credibility playing a 20-year-old in the early segs.
Working almost strictly within the scheme of single takes for each chapter, lenser Pietro Sciortino keeps his camerawork agile and graceful, shifting easily between spaces without losing the scene’s focus.