Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: Una Vita Tranquilla [A Quiet Life] (Claudio Cupellini, 2010)

Can anyone ever escape his or her past? No matter what one does to cover their tracks or how different one chooses to transform their life, will the past always remain in the past? These are some of the questions raised by Claudio Cupellini’s (Lessons in Chocolate) critically acclaimed crime thriller, A Quiet Life. The film played In Competition at the 2010 Rome Film Festival, with popular Italian star Toni Servillo (Gommorah and Gorbaciof) awarded Best Leading Actor.

Rosario Russo (Servillo) is an aging Italian man living near Frankfurt, Germany with his attractive younger wife and ten-year-old son. He has integrated into his local community, and despite constant disagreements with one of his outspoken chefs, is running a successful hotel and restaurant - da Rosario. Having learnt German, he speaks it well, but generally keeps a low profile. He’s now living a 'quiet life', free from the sinister secrets from a past that he no longer considers and has changed his name to protect.

When two young, hard-nosed Italian men suddenly turn up, asking for him and looking for a room, he fears his secrets are no longer safe. One of these men, Edoardo (Francesco Di Leva), is a hotheaded, irrational, cocaine-using thug. The other, Rosario’s estranged son Diego (Marco D’Amore), is more level-headed and in-control, but strictly committed to an assignment that has brought the pair into Germany, and into Rosario’s new stress-free life.

While initially thrilled to see his son, whom he was forced to leave behind in Italy, he soon becomes distracted from his commitments (including helping his excited son pick out a long sought-after pet) because of his desire to make amends, Diego’s mysterious business dealings and Edoardo’s volatile behaviour. Having to face the torment of his past and seeing his son grow up to follow in his footsteps; he also struggles to keep Diego’s identity a secret from his family. The stress of this situation begins to wear Rosario down. When he witnesses a sinister act of violence and finds himself caught up, he can’t help but feel fearful that by allowing Diego and Edoardo to stay at his home, he has placed everyone he now holds dear at risk.

The film is slick, but is at times a little over-indulgent. There is some fine photography, notably an early long-take in Rosario’s kitchen, but often so where it’s not required. It seemed like Cupellini’s intention was to fill every frame with an innovative technique, even resorting to an unnecessary aerial crane shot at one point. This served no purpose other than to capture Edoardo sitting idly by a fountain. The atmosphere he builds is consistently moody and grows increasingly intense, while the sharp editing and the pulsating score are chillingly effective. Technically, it is impressive, and this translates into building a pretty competent thriller. The film is let down at times by the screenplay, with the characters, though engaging as individuals, not given anything unconventional to do and the story, unfortunately, taking them to places that aren’t all that surprising, really. The conclusion is great, but the film does threaten to wear out it's welcome with several preceding twists.

The film, as a slow-burner, is intent on building the atmosphere and introducing the characters in the first half. The interrelations are not all that convincing, and the father/son relationship between Rosario and Diego is especially disappointing. As they slowly start to form a bond again, snippets of information about their past – how Rosario (who’s real name is Antonio) was forced to run from his previous associates and leave behind his wife and son – become apparent. Now that Diego has grown up, and seems to be caught up with the same crime syndicate, Rosario can’t shake the fears that he is the subject of another agenda, and that Diego’s motives for turning up weren’t just to 'see' him.

The film becomes a little muddled by subplots too. Edoardo fools around with Doris, one of Rosario’s waitresses at the restaurant. Why she is even interested in him is pretty ridiculous in itself, but their fling is accentuated to include an awkward moment where they are caught together in a bathroom stall and Edoardo’s savage head butt to one of Doris’ jealous ex-lovers. There is also a pretty explicit sex scene thrown in there too. This has little bearing on the story other than to give him something to do and to further accentuate how embedded they become in the daily lives of Rosario’s family and acquaintances. Rosario's wife, Renate (Juliane Kohler), also becomes jealous of his creeping around, believing him to be seeing a former lover, who shows up drunk at the restaurant on the same day as Diego and Edoardo.

The performances are all excellent, with Di Leva, D'Amore and Kohler all giving solid supporting turns. It is Servillo who rules here, though. Entirely through the evident pain and frustration in his eyes, we know exactly how he is feeling and the how horrified he is that his violent past has unexpectedly turned up on his doorstep. Every action he takes is with the safety of his family in mind, but makes him more vulnerable. He frequently commands attention whenever he is on screen. Though it isn't an outstanding crime thriller, purely because it does conform to a pretty conventional formula (not to mention it's resemblance to A History of Violence) and doesn't offer too many surprises, it's a competent character study that leaves an impact. It is certainly one worth checking out at the upcoming Lavazza Italian Film Festival.

A Quiet Life is playing at Palace Norton Street Cinemas on Saturday 17th September (9.15pm), Thursday 22nd September (9.00pm), Wednesday 28th September (6.30pm) and Sunday 2nd October (6.15pm). 

It is playing at Palace Verona Cinemas on Friday 16th September (8.45pm), Friday 23rd September (9.00pm), Thursday 29th September (4.00pm) and Wednesday 5th October (4.00pm). 

At Chauvel Cinema it is playing on Thursday 22nd September (6.00pm), Saturday 24th September (8.30pm), Friday 30th September (6.00pm) and Sunday 2nd October (1.15pm) 


  1. hey andy, so you had a good time at your first event?

    i skimmed your review to avoid spoilers for when i see it next month but it doesnt seem like i should expect much more than a pretty enjoyable film. the comparison to history of violence is interesting.

  2. Yeah I did, thanks! I caught up with Dwayne of The LennoX Files (in my blogroll), and yeah, the film wasn't bad at all. The story is similar, in a way, to A History of Violence, in that the protagonist escapes from the mafia and after lying low for a while, starts a new life under a new identity - until his past comes back to haunt him. It is quite thrilling at times in the second half. Though it's fairly conventional, I'm sure you will still find it enjoyable.