'Write about what you know' goes the old dictum - so contemporary Italian scripters mostly write about city-dwelling, media-savvy middle-class people like themselves. But at least in Quiet Chaos our hero, TV executive Pietro Paladini, is doing something more original than having a mid-life relationship crisis (Saturno Contro) or exorcising a childhood trauma (The Beast In The Heart). After his wife's sudden death, Paladini stops going to work during the day and simply sits in a park outside his ten-year old daughter's primary school, waiting for her to emerge.
It doesn't sound like much of a premise; but in fact the film (which is based fairly closely on Sandro Veronesi's prize-winning novel of the same name) makes a virtue out of its static location - most of the time. It also features a compelling performance from Nanni Moretti in the main role: though he's worked as an actor for other directors before, this is the first time we forget, for brief but intense moments, that we're watching Nanni Moretti.
In Italy, the Moretti factor is being played to the hilt by production company Fandango and distributor 01 ahead of the film's February 8 release. Such is the fuss about Moretti, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was a film 'by' rather than 'with' him (whereas in fact, apart from his acting role, Moretti was simply one of three scriptwriters, while the director is the experienced but relatively unfeted film and TV grifter, Antonello Grimaldi). Presumably the same strategy will pay dividends in other territories - like France - where Moretti is beloved. Elsewhere, the actor's decidely niche appeal will prompt most distributors to play a waiting game and see how the film plays out in Competition at the Berlinale.
After saving a woman from drowning, Pietro returns to his beach villa to find his wife Lara dead from a heart attack, and his ten year old daughter Claudia (Blu Yoshimi) distraught. Cut to Pietro's workspace some time later - he's a high-ranking manager at a TV network whose French owners are locked in complex merger negotiations. But Pietro can't focus on such trivia: unable to grieve, he's in a sort of suspended trance state. When he takes Claudia back to school on the first day of term, he decides to wait for her outside the school gates rather than going to work.
He does the same the next day, and the next. Soon he's become a fixture in the park. As he won't go to the office, the office comes to him - in the form of his feuding bosses, and briefly, the eminence grise of the corporation, Steiner (a cameo from Roman Polanski). His neurotic sister-in-law Marta (a typecast Valeria Golino) and his solarium-tanned fashion-designer brother Carlo (Alessandro Gassman, clearly enjoying himself) also put in appearances, as do various regular park habitues.
Moretti's performance - unusually for an actor whose chief trait is sardonic superiority - mines a vein of self-doubt and frail desperation that, together with his tender relationship with his daughter, gives Quiet Chaos a broad human touch. It also helps to paper over the improbabilities - like the fact that Pietro's company would allow him to go AWOL for so long. But in the end, it doesn't quite paper over our dissatisfaction with the film's excessively novelistic, 'what-can-I-make-up-next' structure.
Take the extensively You-Tubed sex-scene, in which Pietro falls into bed with the woman he saved from a briny grave: apart from the fact that there's something deeply shocking about seeing Moretti getting down and dirty - rather like stumbling upon one's parents en flagrante - it doesn't add much to his character arc apart from the vague, Euro-arthouse platitude that raunchy sex has got to be good for a repressed man's soul.
It's a shame, too, that Quiet Chaos isn't more striking to look at. It's not badly shot, with devices such as shallow focus close-ups hinting at Pietro's self-imposed withdrawal from the big picture. But nothing here is applied consistently enough to give the film a strong visual attitude. The most striking technical layer is the music: a lilting, melancholic piano and string soundtrack by Paolo, interspersed with indie-rock songs by Stars, Radiohead and Rufus Wainwright.
Fandango Portobello Sales
based on the novel by Sandro Veronesi