Working around the intriguing theme of how well we know the people close to us, “The Power of the Past” hinges on the simultaneous discovery by a successful children’s novelist of his wife’s infidelity and his late father’s secret double life. Piergiorgio Gay’s sober, mature direction and Sergio Rubini’s wired lead performance make the classy production watchable. But its dialogue-heavy, literary approach and the somewhat fanciful central plot conceit taken from Sandro Veronesi’s source novel tag the drama for modest commercial gains.
Following his father’s funeral, Gianni (Rubini) is approached by a cagey older man, Bogliasco (Bruno Ganz), who knows a great deal about his personal life. Fearing the stranger to be a stalker, he sends his wife (Sandra Ceccarelli) and son out of town. But the man persists in getting close to him, eventually revealing he knew Gianni’s father. No longer able to bear the burden of secrecy, Bogliasco informs him that the dead man was not a Fascist Party official as Gianni believed, but a Russian-born diehard Communist and undercover KGB spy.
This rather preposterous revelation at first prompts disbelief in Gianni. But gradually, as the elements fit together, the surprising knowledge causes him to question the direction his own life has taken — his mistakes, his career, his relationship with his wife, the closeness he was denied with his father and the bond he hopes to construct with his son. Gianni’s emotional and self-analytical journey is paralleled with the quest of the Tolkienesque fantasyland adventurer hero (Sebastiano Moise) from his books, who assumes the form of the protagonist as a child.
Despite this invention and Rubini’s nervous, fragile characterization, the initially engrossing drama produces no real hook, becoming increasingly lethargic and dull. With his quaint, Mittel European-accented Italian, Ganz is an enigmatic presence, though the actor appears to have stepped straight from his role in “Bread and Tulips.” Ceccarelli — who starred in Gay’s previous films “Three Stories” and “Watch the Sky” — seems morose and lifeless.
Coming from one of Italy’s most talented lensers, Luca Bigazzi’s work here is a disappointment, failing to inject much atmosphere into the gray-looking locations in northern port city Trieste. More interesting is the plucky, unconventional score by art rock band Quintorigo.