Dir Marco Tullio Giordana.Italy/UK/Fr. 2005. 118 mins
The latest film by The Best of Youth director Marco Tullio Giordana is, like Gianni Amelio's Lamerica, a portrait of an Italy that is trying to get to grips with its newstatus as a multicultural society, whose immigrant population has increasedthirty-fold since 1970. It's about the small hypocrisies and larger cultureclashes that lie behind a nation's firmly-held conviction that it is notracist.
But it's also acoming-of-age film that focuses on the exact moment when a child ceases to be achild. Scripted once again by the director with screenwriting duo Rulli andPetraglia - the Age and Scarpelli of contemporary Italian cinema - OnceYou're Born opens promisingly, but gets bogged down in the secondhalf, where the cholesterol of melodrama clogs the film's arteries. But thereis enough sensitive observation here of pre-adolescent traumas and the smugsecurities of the northern Italian bourgeoisie to make up for its faintlyDickensian portrait of legal and illegal immigrants - a subject much moreconvincingly dealt with by another recent Italian film, Saimir. Thedomestic Italian response should be upbeat, but territories outside of Italywith more evolved immigrant communities may feel a sense of deja-vu , and thefilm lacks the sleeper potential of The Best of Youth.
The opening andclosing scenes are set in Brescia, a prosperous northern city with the lowestunemployment rate in Europe, and an economy based on small manufacturing firmswhich draw on a large immigrant workforce. Giordana knows this world well - hewas born in the nearby town of Crema - and his portrait of dynamic provincialentrepreneur Bruno (Alessio Boni, one of the revelations of The Best ofYouth) has just the right mixture of generosity, businessacumen and brash, anti-intellectual swagger. He's the modern Italian equivalentof the "get on your bike" self-made businessman, and he probably votes for theregionalist Northern League. He's married to a smart, uncomplicated working wife(First Love's Michela Cescon, a fine actress whodeserves all the cinema exposure she can get), lives in an architect-designedhouse, and has the regulation-issue single son, Sandro. It's the son, played byfirst-timer Matteo Gadola, who will upset the happy-family apple cart. On ayachting holiday in Greece (cue shaky home video inserts) with his father andhis father's best friend, Popi (Rodolfo Corsato), Sandro squirms as the twomen, far from their wives, revert to type. The male bonding ends abruptly whenSandro falls overboard while attempting to take a late-night leak over the sideof the boat - which sails on, oblivious, echoing that line by W.H.Auden abouthow "everything turns away quite leisurely from the disaster".
It's a strongfirst act finale; but then the film shifts gear, and genre, as (after thedreamlike, plot-suspending interlude of Sandro floating in the sea) he isrescued by a Romanian lad (Vlad Alexandru Toma), one of a boatload of illegalimmigrants on the short Albania-Italy run across the Straits of Otranto.Suddenly, after the contemporary social satire of part one, we're in theadventure-survival realm of Joseph Conrad or Rudyard Kipling, a shift that issignalled by lighting and production design that feels studio-rigged, just whenit should be at its most documentary. It's too abrupt a change - mostly becausewe're suddenly asked to accept stock characters, and a too hastily sketched-inbackground chorus of generic immigrants, after the spot-on characterisation ofthe early stages. Once You're Born gets back on its feet more than once -especially when the action returns to Brescia, and to the parents' realisationthat the son they have found is not quite the same as the one they lost. But itnever quite returns to its Best-of-Youth peaks.
There is still alot to like, though. Child-actor Gadola has a shy self-assurance and anunactorly manner that anchors Sandro, and the film, in the real world, playingagainst the plot's melodramatic tendencies. Roberto Forza, on his third film withGiordana, once again proves that he has a real talent at lighting for mood. Andthere is a nice, underplayed social critique that emerges not from overtplotting but from little details: ripped Forza Italia posters outisde animmigrant squat; or the anodyne nasal pop of Italian crooner Eros Ramazzottiproviding the soundtrack to the squalor and misery of an underage prostitute.
Marco Tullio Giordana
Once Your Are Born Films (UK) Ltd
Marco Tullio Giordana
based on the novel of the same name by Maria Pace Ottieri
Vlad Alexandru Toma