As a character in “The Soul’s Place” notes, the problems of factory workers no longer make the national news. They also don’t inspire Italian movies anymore, which is one reason why Riccardo Milani’s third feature (a huge leap forward from his “War of the Antos”) looks so fresh and bold. Milani won the this year’s Premio Flaiano for his directing; with critical support the film could attract fests and specialized offshore release. Domestic B.O. on release in early May was sluggish.
Tale about a factory that closes down, and how it affects the lives of three men and their families, springs to life through strong characters and a well-handled mix of realism and earthy humor. Setting is a pretty little southern town nestled in the forested Abruzzo mountains, not far from the sea. Its inhabitants are proud of two things: their local saint Gemma and the Carair tire factory, which gives the area its livelihood. When the American company that owns Carair decides to shut it down, putting 500 men out of work, the workers chain themselves to the gate and organize a round-the-clock protest.
Story is told through the eyes of dedicated union organizer Salvatore (Michele Placido), bearish Antonio (comic actor Silvio Orlando) and young hothead Mario (Claudio Santamaria). They leave no stone unturned in their struggle to keep the factory open, from opening a Web site to and selling homemade pasta in a bid to raise financing to getting arrested on television as well as sending a delegation to Brussels (and then to the U.S.) to meet with the Carair’s prez.
Personal relations are deftly interwoven into Milani and Domenico Starnone’s tightly paced script, showing the impact on the whole town of the factory’s closure. Antonio’s divided girlfriend, Nina (a fine Paola Cortellesi), who left the place long ago for an office job and comfortable apartment in Milan, shows how hard it is to simply walk away from the town and one’s roots.
Salvatore browbeats his teenage son, who is more interested in computers than assembly lines; and he and Mario both lord it over their wives, macho-style. But film also shows the women quietly rebelling by turning their pasta-making into a small business.
Thesps Orlando, Placido and Santamaria are given a lot of leash but mainly keep an edgy balance between seemingly constant conflict and solidarity. The cast is backed up by solid, unobtrusive tech work.