Dir/scr:Paolo Sorrentino, Italy. 2004. 100mins

An ice-coolexistential drama neatly poised on the borderline of thriller territory, PaoloSorrentino's elegant second feature marks the Neapolitan writer-director assomeone who knows just how to impose an individual stamp on idiosyncraticmaterial. A hyper-stylised, often slyly witty portrait of a loner in crisis,the film possibly gestures in the direction of more philosophical substancethan it may prove to contain on a second viewing, yet purely as a study inclaustrophobic ambiance and inscrutable character, the film is more thanstriking, and the first discovery of this year's competition at Cannes

Thefilm is also distinguished by a dazzling lead performance from Toni Servillo -already a likely contender for best actor at Cannes. Its extremely cool toneand enigmatic air may deter some, while its commercial fortunes will remainlargely in the arthouse sector; it also promises to be a hotly-discussedfestival favourite.

Nevertheless,the knowingly-used thriller elements, which become more accentuated as the filmgoes on, will also give it added appeal to the thriller-art crossover audiencewho lapped up such oblique fare as The Usual Suspects, Mementoand Intacto. The spare narrative and occasional head-scratching momentscan only improve its ancillary life, as it is definitely a film to see morethan once.

Mostof the action is set in a discreetly elegant hotel in a Swiss lakeside town,where a middle-aged Italian, Titta Di Girolamo (Servillo) is a permanentresident. As he tells us in his voiceover, Di Girolama is a man withoutimagination; he also seems to be a man without identity and certainly has verylittle to do, spending most of his time smoking his cigarettes with impeccablepoise and quizzically watching the hotel's denizens - including beautifulbarmaid Sofia (Magnani), who appears to reciprocate his unspoken curiosity.

DiGirolamo, unsurprisingly, has several dark secrets - not least, his punctilioushabit of injecting heroin at the same time every week. He also regularlydelivers suitcases containing millions of dollars to a local bank, and insistson the money being counted by hand (which makes for some wonderfully oddballsound design). Di Girolamo's detachment from the world is absolute, until themoment he begins to communicate with Sofia - at which point his world turnsupside down.

Stylistically,and in subject matter, The Consequences Of Love occupies a bizarreposition somewhere between Pirandello and the French polar (police thriller) tradition.On the level of film language, the film is constantly inventive, with LucaBigazzi's sharply-defined photography mapping out the often gaping empty spacesof Di Girolamo's world in smooth, often sinister gliding moves.

GiorgioFranchini's editing is coolly paced, suddenly erupting into rhythmic flurriesor crisply elliptical shuffles. The stylistic emphasis at times verges onmannerism, but there are some notable tours de forces - including a shot thatglides disorientingly over the top of Di Girolamo's head as he subsides into adrug daze, another the parody of urban thriller conventions in Di Girolamo'sbank visits, where the film suddenly bursts into a frenzied car-advertslickness.

Thefilm's absolute centre is Toni Servillo, known for his stage acting andperformances in Mario Martone's films. Playing a character who is absent evenwhen present - a more urbane, cerebral answer to the Being Therecharacter played by Peter Sellers, whom Servillo here oddly resembles. He givesus a minutely-calibrated turn in a very low register, a faintly raised eyebrowhere, a barely visible smile there, that obliges us to fine-tune ourperceptions to his volume.

Otherperformances are striking, notably Magnani's more extrovert but equallyenigmatic Sofia, and Pisu and Goodwin as a once-wealthy elderly couple down ontheir luck, bitterly eking out their final years.

Asthe film moves slightly closer to a conventional sting-thriller ending,Sorrentino gives us a nail-biting and extremely offbeat sequence involving DiGirolamo's meeting with a heavily-escorted Mafia boss in a conference centre,one of the settings that define the film's antiseptic modern world.

Thisworld's mood is also defined in Pasquale Catalano's tense score, mixing stringswith electronics and tracks by such modish avante-pop names as Boards Of Canadaand Mogwai.

Theself-consciously philosophical tone (the film includes a lengthy passage fromCeline's Journey To The End Of The Night) may be a turn-off for some,but overall flair brings the drama to a satisfying, if perplexing ending. Thisis likely to be one of the great love-it-or-hate-it films of the festival, butSorrentino - whose previous film was L'UomoIn Piu - has certainly put himself on the map.

Prodco: FandangoSRL, Indigo Film, Medusa Film
Int'l sales:
The Works
DomenicoProcacci, Nicola Giuliano
Prod des:
Main cast:
ToniServillo, Olivia Magnani, Adriano Giannini, Raffaele Pisu Angela Goodwin