Sunday, September 16, 2012

2012 Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: Take It Easy! (Francesco Bruni, 2012)

How important is the presence of a responsible father figure in the life of a young man on a misguided path? For a bitter and world-weary former teacher, struggling novelist, and celebrity ghostwriter, who has all-but given up on life, these responsibilities change his life just as they do the despondent young man entrusted with his care. It is this touching relationship that makes up the core of Take It Easy!, the debut feature from celebrated screenwriter Francesco Bruni (The First Beautiful Thing). These two misguided men – decades apart in age with completely different attitudes on life – take steps toward a mutual understanding and ultimately play a role in helping one another rediscover their life's direction.

At the 2011 Venice Film Festival, Take It Easy! Won the New Trends in Italian Cinema Best Film Prize and the Vittorio Veneto Award, and at the 2012 David di Donatello 2012 the film won Best New Director and David of the Youth Award. Take It Easy! might just be the definitive Italian warm, feel-good story. The film tracks the unlikely co-existence between a veteran teacher who has lost all passion for his profession, Bruno (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), and one of his equally apathetic pupils, 15-year-old Luca (Filippo Scicchitano), whose mother has recently left for a job in Mali and left him in the care of Bruno. The catch, Bruno is actually Luca's father, and this is the first Bruno has heard of it.

Bruno, whose career as a novelist has never taken off, is working on ghost writing the memoirs of a former adult star, Tina (Barbora Bobulova), while Luca - the class rebel with an interest in loud pop music, a passion for boxing and aspirations of being a drug pusher like the lads in French cult classic, La Haine - is on the brink of failure at school and mixed up with the wrong crowd. He is an erratic and volatile young man. Though his new situation is ideal, Luca begins to grow suspicious of Bruno's eagerness to get him in line and help him pass his classes, unaware of who is new guardian really is. He never would have expected that his father's reputation would be such an asset. Ultimately, it is a story about a man who learns to take on the responsibilities of a father, and a son who chooses to grow up.

This pleasant, if familiar, story is observant and delicately told. It is an enriching human story worth emotionally investing in and though short of rousing moments, it features strong chemistry between the charismatic leads (and Scicchitano proves himself as a promising talent). It is a well-constructed dual character study – of characters we grow to like, which always helps – which converge in surprising and heartfelt ways.

There are a couple of subplots that give us more insight into these two men. Bruno finds a confidant in Tina, open to Bruno about her career in porn during their interview sessions, Bruno reciprocates by opening up himself. He receives advice on how to handle the news and how best to help his son without revealing who he is. Luca and two of his buddies begin to work as small-time pushers for a local drug dealer. They are given VIP passes to clubs and begin to get minor street cred, but when Luca rips off a big-shot dealer, he learns this man does not easily forgive and fears for he and his friends' life.

In between these arcs we watch the two begin to bond. Often they are at odds, but some of the best moments involve Bruno realizing similarities between he and Luca - their distaste for Cucumbers for example - which in his eyes distinguishes Luca as his son. Bruno also envies and respects Luca's volatility. He possesses a swagger; an air of confidence and an ability to stand up for himself that Bruno has never possessed. Luca is a young man at a crossroads. He realises that his education will lead to him eventually becoming the person he wants to be, not pursuing his current aspirations and entangling himself with the undesirables of the local drug rings, and it is through the chance uniting of these troubled souls, and Bruno's strict interest in his well-being, which ensures that Luca takes the correct path. Bruno also finds his passions rejuvenated in the process.

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