The economic crisis is tackled head-on in Gianni Amelio’s “Intrepido: A Lonely Hero,” and while the helmer ropes in topics including financial worries, foreign workers, corruption and ineffective unions, he can’t resist adding injudicious amounts of sentiment that weaken his thrust. The idea of an outwardly content Everyman acting as a temporary worker in hundreds of different jobs is an appealing one, yet Amelio can’t sustain the concept, and characters meant to deepen themes wind up unsatisfactorily cluttering things up. Home play will be modest, with limited excursions to Italo showcases.
An establishing shot of Milan under a thin layer of snow reveals Italy’s business hub as an empty, nondescript city spotted with unfinished construction sites. In the morning Antonio Pane (Antonio Albanese) works a stint on the scaffolding of a high-rise, then dons a lion costume in the children’s activity area of a mall. Later in the week he puts up posters, drives a tram and delivers pizzas. He’s a “fill-in,” someone who fills in for workers who need to be out for a few hours or days. Assignments come from a mysterious gym owner (Alfonso Santagata), who berates Antonio whenever he asks for his salary. Italy is notorious for not paying up on time, but the script hasn’t figured out exactly what it wants to do with Santagata’s ill-defined character (he’s not the only one).
At an exam for an unspecified public-sector job, the ever-helpful Antonio passes answers to Lucia (Livia Rossi), a young woman frozen with panic. Later he meets her at a stadium-cleaning gig and offers platonic friendship, which the anxious woman fitfully accepts. The other main character is Antonio’s son, Ivo (Gabriele Rendina), a sax player at the conservatory who does a soulful version of “Nature Boy.” Ivo helps keep his father afloat with gifts of small necessities and occasional loans, but he’s in artistic-crisis mode (another unclear plot element) and proves to be as unreliable as claimed in his laments.
Antonio’s last name, Pane, means bread, an appropriate moniker for a guy supposed to be uncomplicated and neutrally pleasant to all. He appears to have few needs, enjoys working at whatever he’s given, and is proud of the son he loves deeply. Yet it’s not enough to keep his head above water. Unions aren’t much help, obliquely seen talking a good game but long reduced in power, and he refuses to be part of any underhanded transactions such as the corrupt schemes of his ex-wife’s companion, Dante (Giuseppe Antignati).
Amelio’s picture of Italy is an honestly damning one, a place where facades are more important than what lies beneath and labor is increasingly composed of foreign workers. Billboards touting optimistic prosperity offer further pointed barbs at a failing system, yet the helmer, who’s made hard-hitting pics in the past, keeps blunting his scalpel with sentimentality. Lucia resembles nothing so much as a nervous gerbil, all bundles of tension with no depth, and Ivo, an initially intriguing figure, is too poorly constructed to act as a signifier of artistic ambition grappling with insecurities. A swipe against bloodthirsty journalists belongs in another movie.
Albanese’s bland face, enlivened by his warm smile, is just the right canvas for this sort of figure who placidly goes through life in the Candide-like hope that if he’s nice to people, they’ll be nice back. The screen comes alive when Sandra Ceccarelli makes a brief appearance as Antonio’s ex-wife, Adriana; Amelio could easily have mined more from this relationship, and Ceccarelli provides a welcome lesson in imbuing even the tiniest roles with complexity.
Top d.p. Luca Bigazzi’s lensing is elegant and assured – this is the fifth time he’s collaborated with Amelio, and their fruitful rapport results in a few pleasantly unexpected shots and nicely nuanced lighting. A sped-up sequence in an industrial laundry is played for whimsy, but this is no “Modern Times.” The Italian title references a now-defunct children’s magazine; a rough translation, “The Intrepid One,” would be preferable to the current infelicitous (and nonsensical) fest title.