Venice Film Review: ‘The Obscene Life’

Uninspired visuals and one-dimensional characters do no service to Renato de Maria’s coming-of-age story, described as a psychedelic journey.

La vita oscena The Obscure Life

Neither the high-octane energy of “Paz!” nor the liberating freedom of “Love Me” are in evidence in Renato de Maria’s latest, “The Obscene Life.” Based on the autobiographical novel of Aldo Nove (who co-scripted), the pic is described as a psychedelic journey, a coming-of-age story about a 17-year-old poet whose parents’ deaths send him into a tailspin of drugs and depression. Uninspired visuals and one-dimensional characters render the journey tedious, leaving viewers apathetic at best. Local play will depend on buzz (unlikely), while offshore chances are slim outside possible Italo showcases.

A far too pervasive first-person voiceover (by Fausto Paravidino) introduces auds to the protag, Andrea (Clement Metayer), strung out and lying among centerfolds pullouts within a body outline made from cocaine. Flashback to earlier days, when he was a happy dope confident in the love of his hippy mom (Isabella Ferrari) and characterless father (Roberto de Francesco). Things change when his normally sunny mother falls into a deep depression; then in short order dad dies of a stroke, and mom dies of cancer.

This overwhelming loss understandably shakes Andrea to the core, and he plunges into a cycle of drugs and alcohol. The encouragement of a teacher, following soon after a near-death experience from an exploding gas tank, seems to offer a better way out, but then he deliberately overdoses (cue the scene from the beginning). What follows is an extended hallucinogenic haze, lensed with a lackluster understanding of creativity or narrative drive, which partly involves superannuated whores and then, the ultimate degradation, he performs oral sex on a guy. However, “behind every loss is a rebirth,” and somehow Andrea pulls himself together.

Cinematic evocations of bad trips have been around for decades, and therefore require some kind of spark to make this rather uninteresting state watchable. Instead, de Maria seems to have lost the mojo of “Paz!,” resorting to usual devices like slow-mo, a little spinning, a little reverse-cam, and trancelike music. Rather than getting inside Andrea’s drug-induced fantasy, the flat visuals are dull, almost as if the helmer meant to work up a few ideas but then needed to lock the picture in a hurry. Floating breakfast items and imagined elephant heads feel merely ho-hum.

Poor sound quality at the screening attended made it impossible to judge tech elements. Music is inexpertly tacked on, and has no follow-through within scenes.

Venice Film Review: ‘The Obscene Life’

Reviewed at Casa del Cinema, Rome, Aug. 18, 2014. (In Venice Film Festival — Horizons.) Running time: <strong>82 MIN</strong>. (Original title: “La vita oscena”)

  • Production: (Italy) A Film Vision production, in association with Lebowski, Monochrome, in collaboration with Interfilm, Movimento Film, Afafilm, Passione Film. Produced by Gianluca de Marchi, Fabio Mazzoni. Executive producers, Marco Simon Puccioni, Giampiero Preziosa, Francesca Bonaccorsi, Mario Mazzarotto, Claudio Vecchio, Giorgio Magliulo, Alessandra Acciai.  
  • Crew: Directed by Renato de Maria. Screenplay, de Maria, Aldo Nove, based on the novel by Nove. Camera (color), Daniele Cipri; editors, Letizia Caudullo, Jacopo Quadri; music, Riccardo Sinigallia, Vittorio Cosma, Gianni Maroccolo, Max Casacci; production designer, Alessandra Mura; costume designers, Jessica Zambelli, Sara Grittini; sound, Maximilien Bernard Gobiet; associate producers, Riccardo Scamarcio, Isabella Ferrari; casting, Francesco Vedovati.
  • With: Clement Metayer, Isabella Ferrari, Roberto de Francesco, Andrea Renzi, Iaia Forte, Anita Kravos, Eva Riccobono, Valentina Reggio, Vittoria Schisano, Valentina Belle, Duccio Camerini, Piero Cardano. Narrator: Fausto Paravidino.
  • Music By: