A high-profile murder turns personal when a police inspector discovers his teen daughter may have been at the crime scene in Bruno Oliviero’s respectable neo-noir debut, “The Human Factor.” Immersed in the coldly perverse nighttime underbelly of Milan, this spare and chilly thriller gets residual heat only from suppressed emotions and the understated presence of newcomer Alice Raffaelli in an impressive turn as the neglected young woman yearning for paternal affection. Too downbeat to make much of a splash at home, “Factor” will likely find larger auds via streaming sites and smallscreen airings.
The helmer’s docu background, particularly his examinations of Milan, informs his stark, observational take on Italy’s city of commerce, using a distanced approach to critique a metropolis where connections offer a surface slickness that repels intimacy. Perversion and depression are the city’s twin spirits, the former a joyless bid for excitement, and the latter the desiccated leftovers where personal attachments once existed. Embodying that depression is inspector Adriano Monaco (Silvio Orlando, sporting saucer-sized eye bags). A widower for the last three years, he’s all but given up onsite investigations, preferring the solitude of deskwork over human interactions.
He and partner Carlo Levi (Giuseppe Battiston) are assigned to the sensational murder of high-roller Mirko Ullrich (Francesco Palamini), whose cocaine-dusted, blood-smeared home implies a vigorous struggle. Ullrich’s wife (Sandra Ceccarelli, appropriately brittle) claims to have been out at a party and then sleeping with a guy whose name she can’t recall; clearly there was no love lost between this couple. Then Monaco sees his daughter Linda (Raffaelli) brought into the station after being found pointing a gun outdoors.
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Linda is dazed, possibly drugged; Levi offers the comfort and warmth that Monaco, trapped in his perpetual grieving-widower stage, can’t provide. She’s booked and allowed to return home with her father, but she’s not offering any answers, and Monaco doesn’t know how to even ask the questions. An investigation of Ullrich’s murder reveals the guy liked teenage girls and nightlife; when Monaco finds a scrap of paper that possibly puts Linda in Ullrich’s apartment the night of the murder, the full force of his self-imposed isolation hits home.
The plot, as well as some dialogue, could have been lifted from countless investigative skeins, full of sordid details that provide viewers with the kind of prurient pleasure that keeps them from switching channels. Oliviero’s vision is a bit more sophisticated than that, yet while he’s good on mood, he’s less forthcoming with answers. Monaco is so trapped in his perpetual grief that the walls he’s built around himself block out not just his daughter, but audiences as well. Fortunately, Linda’s character has more visible complexity, and Raffaelli brings out the full contradictory nature of this deeply needy teen, who plays the mean girl at school as a way of compensating for the lack of attention at home. Meanwhile, the crime itself feels completely incidental, and Ceccarelli is given too little to do.
Though Renaud Personnaz’s camera spends ample time registering the late-night streets of Milan, it rarely feels involved in what it’s shooting, offering cursory intros rather than in-depth explorations. The effect is meant to be haunting, yet a bit more lingering on character would have enhanced the kind of shading generally lacking in the script.