Our Life -- Film Review

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CANNES -- Three years after "My Brother Is an Only Child," Daniele Luchetti returns to the Festival de Cannes' Competition with "Our Life," in many ways the successor to the 2007 title, a domestic smash hit that played worldwide and in the U.S. grossed nearly $1 million at the boxoffice.

The new film will not have the same commercial appeal as "Brother," nor will it resonate as well with foreign audiences. But what the classically told "Life" lacks in originality, it makes up for as an acute snapshot of contemporary Italy.

"Brother" took place during the politically charged 1980s, when domestic terrorism was rampant, and could have been subtitled "Our Lives Then," whereas in "Life," there are no more ideals, only the frenetic, vicious cycle that is "arrangiarsi." The word has no direct equivalent in English but signifies something between getting by and hustling.
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Elio Germano, one of Italy's top young actors, plays Claudio, a construction worker living on the outskirts of Rome with a wife (Isabella Ragonese) he adores, two small kids and a third on the way. When his wife dies during childbirth, Claudio wants to compensate for his sons' loss by making their lives as materially comfortable as possible. So he leans on his boss, Porcari (Giorgio Colangeli), to give him his own construction site to supervise. In exchange, Claudio won't report the death of an illegal Romanian worker that Porcari is covering up.

To start work, Claudio needs 50,000 euros cash -- which he gets from his drug-dealing neighbor (Luca Zingaretti) -- and a lot more know-how than he actually has. The money soon dries up as inevitable problems arise and the site workers (mostly foreigners) threaten to quit. Claudio first says nothing -- not getting paid for months on end is not uncommon across the Italian workplace -- then finally turns to his brother (Raoul Bova) and sister (Stefania Montorsi) for more money.

When the Romanian's former lover (Alina Madalina Berzunteanu) and son (Marius Ignat) come looking for the lost man, Claudio, out of guilt, befriends them and even gives the latter a job.

Some of Italy's most topical issues are here: illegal employment, illegal immigration, racism and, of course, the family. But Luchetti has wisely made a human drama that uses the working class to represent the state of things at large. Claudio is simply one of millions of "little big men" trying to get by as best as they can. Legally if possible, illegally if necessary.

Germano is a first-rate actor, though at times it's hard to tell whether he has entered a type-casting rut or whether he is as edgy and high-strung as the majority of characters he plays. Either way, his seeming inability to sit still works well here. Claudio has to keep moving to keep himself and his family from falling apart.

The rapport among the family members is comfortable and believable, with Bova's casting against type a great choice. One of Italy's most exportable hunks, he is unexpectedly moving as a handsome but introverted bachelor -- a man who never really has attempted anything in life and whose sister still irons and cooks for him, like their mother before her, it's implied.

Berzunteanu's character Gabriela serves as the film's critical voice. A Romanian woman who has been living in Italy for years, she never fully has integrated, nor does she want to anymore, accusing Italians of choosing material over emotional well-being.

Although the film could be more emotionally engaging, Luchetti weaves moments of lightness into the straightforward drama that in more didactic hands could have become heavy-handed. Sometimes too much lightness: The young boys' mourning never really is addressed. The upbeat ending will please audiences, though doubtfully critics, but it hides a deeper message: Claudio might have made it through one series of crises, but he'll have to continue to "arrangiarsi" to keep moving forward.

The soundtrack revolves around pop songs by Italian rock great and working-class hero Vasco Rossi.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- In Competition
Production: Cattleya, RAI Cinema, Babe Films
Sales: Celluloid Dreams

Cast: Elio Germano, Raoul Bova, Luca Zingaretti, Isabella Ragonese, Stefania Montorsi, Giorgio Colangeli, Marius Ignat, Alina Madalina Berzunteanu
Director: Daniele Luchetti
Screenwriter: Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli, Daniele Luchetti
Producers: Riccardo Tozzi, Giovanni Stabilini, Marco Chimenz
Director of photography: Claudio Collepiccolo
Production designer: Giancarlo Basili
Music: Franco Piersanti
Costume designer: Maria Rita Barbera
Editor: Mirco Garrone
No rating, 99 minutes
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