Thursday 26 March 2009

La vita che vorrei (2004)

With enough meta to sink a boat, La vita che vorrei (The life I would want) is a film about a film, where actors play actors who play lovers who eventually fall in love in "real" life too. Life imitating art, which imitates life, is a central theme - with several of the "film's" scenes directly mirroring the "real life" scenes. In one of the most satisfying gimmicks, quick cuts between the 19th century costume drama and the actors' 21st century lives are linked by seamless dialogue. "Wait!" he cries at coffee break on the set, and we cut to him chasing her carriage in the 19th century.

Essentially a study about a relationship and the interaction between life and art, this film avoids making too much obvious commentary about glamor or celebrity. But hey - Italian cinema has fallen pretty low since the La dolce vita days, so Italian actors don't have the burden of fame that the Brad Pitts and Amitabh Bachchans or Marcello Mastroiannis of the world live or lived with. (Hence why you can bump into Nanni Moretti or Luigi Lo Cascio on the streets pretty easily in Rome! Whee!) The film-about-a-film is not entirely free of cliché, though, as these actors, Stefano (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Laura (Sandra Ceccarelli), are your pretty standard "actor" characters: insecure, jealous and vain. Laura, however, still has the bright eyes and warm, open heart of a beginner, while the more experienced Stefano has since built a hard shell of bastardliness around himself. Or maybe it's their personalities. Whatever it is, everyone soon falls for the cute, vulnerable Laura, Stefano included, and things are all great until Stefano's bastardliness ruins everything.

On the set.

And off.

The meta travels in the opposite direction as well: as in, it's not only the "real life" romance between Stefano and Laura which informs their "on screen" relationship, but it's also their acting methods which inform their "real life" behaviors. Laura, who everyone agrees is so warm and friendly and open, believes you really need to feel the character. You can't, and shouldn't, fake it. And, importantly, you should be nice to all the nice people around you. Stefano, who everyone agrees is pretty much a "stronzo", is misanthropic and self-centered. Of course, the real tragedy is when Stefano's chilly insensitivity tries to mix with Laura's "heart on my sleeve" attitude. Woe ensues.

There's a somewhat unexpected humor to this film, especially since the audience naturally sides with Laura and watching Stefano's fall from confident, beloved star to, "Well, we always thought you were a big jerk." is oddly funny. Of course, it's a little painful as well. Sandra Ceccarelli as Laura is wonderfully endearing: she seems both naive and world-weary, both sentimental and cynical. This fits perfectly with Laura's supposed "long, hard road" to becoming a star. Luigi Lo Cascio, who last occupied the special page in our diary we reserve for "Perfect Man/Husband-to-be", thanks to his role as Nicola the Perfect Man in La meglio gioventù, plays his polar opposite in this: Stefano is a frustrating and pitiful Scrooge-like jerk. The trademark intensity, which so defined Lo Cascio's debut in I cento passi, is sadly mostly missing. Oh well, next time. The chemistry between Lo Cascio and Ceccarelli is really intense, though, which made the PPCC yearn for an adoption of Hindi cinematic norms - that is, if a pairing works, sign them on for a kabillion movies together! Apparently Lo Cascio and Ceccarelli have been in another film together: 2001's gloomy Luce dei miei occhi.

Sandra Ceccarelli and Luigi Lo Cascio: wonderful!

Critic Chris Knipp calls this film a "chick flick" and we have to admit some agreement. First, there's the lovely, indulgent costume drama romance which the PPCC cannot resist. Oh, those Verdi chords and smoldering stares and gorgeous costumes! Second, the girl power levels are on high in this film, as it's the inexperienced and naive Laura who demonstrates herself to be a stronger, better person than silly old Stefano. Laura is very clearly in charge, and much of the filmmaking frames the two in such a way as to emphasize her strength and his weaknesses (this is helped by the fact that Lo Cascio is such a physically small person, appearing shorter and slighter than Sandra Ceccarelli).

We definitely recommend this if you like straight-up romance, music by Verdi, strong women, and Luigi Lo Cascio's cute eyebrows skillful acting.


ajnabi said...

The farthest I ever got into Italian films was Johnny Stecchino in first-year Italian club, but from your reviews they ALWAYS seem very self aware. Like, "Look at us, we're looking at us, can you see us seeing us?" I don't know if I can handle it. Old World angst sometimes makes me want to roll my eyes. ;-) (Yes, I realize this comment makes me 1. a Philistine and 2. utterly idiotic.)

a ppcc representative said...

ajnabi - Ha! Oh dear, my Italian film reviews always seem to get comments from you readers that go, "I don't know much about Italian films BUT..." Anyway: does being self-aware by definition equal being angst-filled? Not necessarily, I think. C'eravamo tanto amati is one big joke, taking the piss both out of other films and itself, yet it's joyful and angst-free. Johnny Stecchino - vah! I love that movie. I would say give this one a try - it has both angsty historical melodrama and modern, ironic rom-com-style scenes - something for everyone!

eliza bennet said...

One thing I like in European films is how real the actors look. I prefer French and English -and Almodovar- cinema but based on your screen shots I can see that it is true for Italian cinema too.

Rom-com and melodrama, I'm there :)

a ppcc representative said...

eliza bennet - There are some more conventionally handsome Italian actors - Raoul Bova, for example - they just aren't as well-considered or as popular as people like Luigi Lo Cascio. I think this also has to do with the fact that European films aim more for an intellectualism niche. They know they can't compete with Hollywood on popular, popcorn cinema grounds, so they go for more brainy "high art"/festival films, where you need less glamor, more technical acting skill. At least, I get that vibe.

Anonymous said...

what is the name of the song at the and of the trailer? some woman singing..

zonavenerdi said...

Gianna Nannini con "Amandoti" che però è una cover dei CCCP

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