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In their first feature film, “And Peace on Earth” (Et in Terra Pax), Italian film-critics-turned-filmmakers Matteo Botrugno and Daniele Coluccini follow three stories in a corrupt, crime-filed community on the outskirts of Rome, with the promise all three will eventually intersect. No, a better word than “promise” would be “threat.” And this threat strongly suggests it will involve violence.
The film is drenched in nihilism and despair: Its young characters are mostly unemployed and bored, ingesting or dealing drugs and expecting little from life and getting exactly what they expect. Such Italian films turn up frequently at international festivals. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anywhere else they would play to large crowds, as Italians need little reminding of tough economic times and films such as “And Peace on Earth” certainly lack any entertainment incentives to lure audiences
The film displays its serious-mindedness by unfolding in short vignettes, often where little is taking place, as solemn choral music drifts through the scenes. The acting is muted but accurate in its portrayal of a certain kind of resigned helplessness.
Characters relate to one another with a laconic diffidence. Marco (Maurizio Tesei), a petty criminal just out of stir, initially refuses to return to drug dealing for his buddies. Then, having nothing better to do, he acquiesces. Actually, all he does is shrug and continue to sit on a park bench to which his buddies direct customers. He never works up the energy to actually say yes.
Among these customers are three lowlives, Faustino, Massimo and Federico, (Michele Botrugno, Germono Gentile, Fabio Gomiero), who bully kids, taunt attractive women and look to score drugs. The one bright spot among all these deadbeat characters is a young woman, Sonia (Ughetta D’Onorascenzo), who studies hard, works hard and cares for her grandmother. You do worry about the safety of such an angelic character in so dismal an environment.
The anticipated outrage takes place, the expected consequence occurs and so nothing really unpredictable happens. Even a revelation about one of the three lowlives is not really a revelation to any viewer who has been paying attention.
Eventually, Marco settles back on his park bench and everyone’s dismal life goes on. Well, at least it does for those who are still living after the bloody climax.
The film does feel like the kind of film former critics might make. It derives from so many other films they’ve sat through in their lives, but they do pay close attention to details and understand how a portrayal of dire circumstances can be dressed up to look profound.
Venue: Tokyo International Film Festival, Competition
Production company: Kimera Film/Settembrini Film/Redigital
Cast: Maurizio Tesei, Ughetta D’Onorascenzo, Michele Botrugno, Germono Gentile, Fabio Gomiero, Simone Crisari, Riccardo Flammini, Paolo Perninello.
Directors: Matteo Botrugno, Daniele Coluccini.Screenwriters: Matteo Botrugno, Daniele Coluccini, Andrea Esposito.
Producers: Gianluca Arcopinto, Simone Isola, Marco Ledda.
Director of photography: Davide Manca.
Production designers: Laura Boni, Irene Iaccio.
Editor: Mario Marrone.
No rating, 90 minutes.
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