A psychological thriller of unusual depth, “A Quiet Life” reps a significant leap forward for sophomore helmer Claudio Cupellini (“Lessons in Chocolate”), revealing a level of stylistic control and narrative force that should catapult him onto the list of Italo directors to watch. A rare international co-production that feels organically right, the pic boasts the considerable thesping talent of Toni Servillo as a marked man hiding from his mob past. Ending things 15 minutes before the finale would pack more punch, but even as is, “Life” is capable of a healthy existence on Euro screens.
Italo B.O. has been respectable, with nearly $1.2 million over two weeks, and a Stateside run isn’t unthinkable if groundwork is laid via Italian-focused fests. Servillo’s growing recognition internationally should help, as will the world’s unquenchable thirst for intelligent Mafia/Camorra tales.
In the quiet forests near Wiesbaden, Germany, Rosario (Servillo) runs a restaurant-hotel with his German wife, Renate (Juliane Koehler). A memorable intro, featuring Rosario in closeup as he’s about to shoot a wild boar, sets an unsettling tone whose ambiguity is nicely in keeping with Rosario’s character. Out of the blue, two young Italians show up, Edoardo (Francesco Di Leva) and Diego (Marco D’Amore); a troubled Rosario offers them lodging without providing Renate with much explanation.
The Italo duo, sporting thick Neapolitan accents, are an incongruous presence in this Teutonic landscape; they were introduced earlier with Edoardo snorting coke and the two listening to news about the garbage crisis in Naples — a sure sign of Camorra involvement. It’s clear Rosario and Diego have a connection, though Rosario has been in Germany for 12 years, and his growing warmth toward the younger man is met with determined iciness.
Auds should be able to guess fairly soon the source of Diego’s resistance: Rosario is his father, having escaped a mob death-sentence in Naples years earlier by fleeing and changing identities. The family business, however, hasn’t changed, and Diego’s in town with Edoardo, the son of Rosario’s nemesis, to take out a German contractor about to undercut the Camorra’s garbage disposal concerns. The longer they stay at the hotel, the more Rosario wants to reconnect with his long-abandoned son, but underneath the warmth remains the wariness of a fugitive willing to do anything to survive.
Part of the pic’s success lies in the way Cupellini balances contrasting concepts: Family offers both security and betrayal, and a sylvan setting can’t supply the kind of shelter needed by those attempting to escape the past. Until the unfortunate last quarter-hour, when character consistency is pushed to an unsatisfactory degree, “A Quiet Life” is full of subtle modulations and terrific little character details; only Rosario’s relationship with Renate feels underwritten.
As usual, Servillo uses a distinctive physicality to get into his role; Rosario frequently puts his hand on his back, as if he’s in mild chronic pain. It may not be a clear statement, but it makes the character come alive, helping to add different levels of reality to a complex figure. D’Amore, in his film debut, is memorable as the abandoned son mistrustful of his father’s attempts at rapprochement yet yearning for paternal love; Di Leva, too is a standout in a role that could easily have been just another wiry junior mobster.
The choice of Hungarian d.p. Gergely Poharnok (“Hukkle,” “Taxidermia”) was inspired, as the talented lenser provides elegant yet chilly (and chilling) visuals that expertly play with setting characters together and apart. Editing is smooth and satisfying, and as usual, Teho Teardo, one of the best Italo composers, has an ear for restrained music that imparts the right amount of counterpoint to what’s onscreen.