Sympathetically acted and directed, Stefano Chiantini’s “Islands” is a watchable Italo drama that nonetheless doesn’t come up with the distinctive style, plot turns or psychological insight to elevate its antiquated story basics — it’s the old “attractive drifter beguiles wallflower daughter of resident crank in xenophobic village” chestnut. Toplined thesp Asia Argento’s name will open some doors, though the real lead here is Czech actor Ivan Franek. Theatrical potential is modest, but ancillary looks brighter.
Undocumented emigre worker Ivan (Franek) is scraping by, supporting himself and an ungrateful father who gambles away any money he can get his hands on. Journeying from their squalid coastal flat to a nearby island to work as a bricklayer, Ivan is not only cheated of his pay but gets beaten to boot. He’s helped by Martina (Argento), who as an orphan was taken in to be raised as a daughter by Father Enzo (Giorgio Colangeli). She’s antisocial, mute by choice and a beekeeper, reason enough for locals to consider her crazy. For his part, the recently retired, barely mobile Enzo is a crusty old cuss who resents being replaced at the church but could hardly have been an inspirational figure to his flock.
Since Ivan doesn’t even have money to get back to the mainland, and Martina offers shelter for the night, Enzo decides the stranger should earn his keep as housekeeper/nurse — partly to spite the padre’s sister Wilma (Anna Ferruzzo), whose spurned offers of assistance may spring less from family loyalty than from a covetous desire for the land her brother withholds from development.
Surprisingly, this domestic situation suits all quite well. Courteous and warm, Ivan’s presence has a thawing effect on both prickly Enzo and skittish Marina, even sparking a certain romantic frisson with the latter. But of course the villagers take exception to this “gypsy” interloper, leading to a conflict that’s pretty rotely worked out and devoid of any real suspense. There is, however, a touching subtlety to the closing scene.
Indie production makes good use of handsome scenery (it was shot in the Tremini Islands), though its general look is gritty rather than postcard-pretty. Perfs are strong if somewhat hemmed in by simplistic character writing, with soulful Franek faring best suggesting an inner life for his figure. Assembly is aptly unfussy but pro.