Dir:Daniele Vicari. Italy. 2005. 114mins.
It's a nice idea for a film: take Italy's highest mountainoutside the Alps - the Gran Sasso - and come up with a storyline that links thehi-tech world below the mountain (which hosts the Gran Sasso National Laboratory,the world's largest underground laboratory for research into particle physics)with the primitive shepherding community above.
Butalthough Daniele Vicari's second outing - after his 2001 illegal car racingdrama Velocita Massima - has a certain austere, formal strength, it isin the end too cold and impenetrable for its own good.
Asmight be expected, the film's opening weekend results at home in Italy werepoor, with a slack $814 screen average; and it had dropped out of the top 20 byweek two. Abroad, the best the film can probably hope for is some festivalaction on the back of its Cannes Critics Week selection.
Vicaristays faithful to the leading man from his first film, Valerio Mastandrea.Mastandrea is an authentic Roman lad who might be seen as the Francesco Tottiof the Italian acting scene; he was perfectly believable as an aspiring carmechanic in Velocita Massima, but is more difficult to take as a nuclearphysicist. Although Mastandrea's downplayed performance as Max gains inauthority - especially when he's out of the lab, and on the mountain - it isstill difficult to get past the initial miscasting.
Maxhas some dark, conflict stuff going on with his family of Roman lawyers andproperty developers - but Vicari presents this backstory explanation for tooelliptically and sparingly for it to be fully convincing. He's romanticallyinvolved with a French colleague, Anais (Gwenaelle Simon) and under pressure todeliver the results of an experiment, codenamed Helios, in the face of stiff internationalcompetition.
Taciturn,damaged, and lost without a moral compass, Max finally gives way to thetemptation to falsify the results - a decision which precipitates the finalcrisis, and leaves a battered, bruised Max to wake up in the hut of an Albanianshepherd on top of the mountain.
Thegreat open spaces of this mountain pastureland are a relief after the underlitinteriors of the first part of the film, where Max moves between the tunnelsand labs of this physicists' Mordor and the equally cramped, airless interiorsof his arid, bachelor home and social life. Massimo Zamboni's quirky loop-backelectronic soundtrack underlines a series of variations on Mastandrea lookingpent-up, moody, depressed; but there is very little of the real character developmentthat we are looking for.
TheAlbanian shepherd he meets, played with a gruff authenticity by Lulzim Zeqja,has basic survival problems that seem a lot realer than Max's existential angst- but the script seems to shy away from the consequences of this wake-up call,and drift back into cinematic poetics, framing converging lines and circles onthe pavement of the town where Max ends up, which we are clearly supposed toconnect with the particle geometries of the opening section.
Vicariseems to be reaching towards more northern models, like the films of Haneke,when he's not reaching back towards Antonioni. In the end, though, the problemsof one little nuclear physicist don't add up to a whole hill of beans.