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ROME — For the first two acts, Lucio Pellegrini’s La Vita Facile (The Easy Life) is a perfectly standard, commercially viable movie about middle-age crises among aid workers in Africa, thanks to its strong, handsome leads Pierfrancesco Favino and Stefano Accorsi. But when it enters Dirty Rotten Scoundrels territory with an unexpected twist, most will be left wishing for the stock endings usually associated with these stories.
The general Italian public may be forgiving so La Vita Facile will certainly earn a good first couple of weeks at the local box office because of its name cast.
Favino plays Mario, a successful 40-year-old surgeon who works in an expensive private clinic. As the film opens, he’s getting ready to leave Rome and his pretty, spoiled wife Ginevra (Vittoria Puccini) for a little while, to join his old friend Luca (Accorsi) in Africa. Also a doctor, Luca left Italy nine years earlier to start a hospital in the Kenyan desert for humanitarian aid organization “Italy for Africa” (which explains why everyone there speaks Italian).
Grumpy, racist and well-heeled Mario doesn’t like his accommodations, the lack of decent medical equipment or the bugs in Africa. But he’s there supposedly to give some meaning to his life so he begins to adapt and is even won over by the local kids. Then he gets news that Ginevra is on her way.
Flashbacks show a car accident that left Mario in a coma. During that time, an affair blossomed between Ginevra and Luca, the real reason the latter fled Italy. The three haven’t been together since, so presumably Ginevra’s presence will lead to the confrontation that never was.
The script by Stefano Bises, Laura Paolucci and Andrea Salerno keeps Western righteousness in Africa to a refreshing minimum, and treats its characters’ flaws with nonchalance. Luca, Mario and Ginevra wear their weaknesses on their sleeves so emotional showdowns are nicely downplayed in what initially seems like — and is being marketed as — a love triangle.
Once Ginevra arrives, however, the screenwriters thrust us into a con game, in which nobody is who they seem. After spending so much time making even his most unsympathetic characters light and likeable, Pellegrini turns the tables so quickly this works against his film.
Without giving too much away, Mario can’t go home for legal reasons or access his substantial bank account. He sends Ginevra and Luca back to Italy for the money, with a plan so naïve it’s a puzzle as to why no one, much less the film’s savvy producer Domenico Procacci, didn’t demanded rewrites. These twists also make some characters inexplicably despicable.
The performances are solid from the three leads, who last year appeared together in Gabriele Muccino’s Kiss Me Again. Favino channels Italian great comic star Alberto Sordi as the amiable ass. Accorsi is more natural and relaxed than he’s been in years and Puccini convinces as an icy princess.
African and Italian supporting actors, in particular Camilla Filippi, add to the local color and an easy rapport the characters have with one another and their surroundings.
The wide-angle, panoramic photography of the Kenyan countryside by Gogo Bianchi may be something we’ve often seen in African-set films, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.
Opens: Friday, March 4 in Italy
Production companies: Fandango Portobello in association with Medusa Film
Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Stefano Accorsi, Vittoria Puccini, Camilla Filippi, Angelo Orlando, Eliana Miglio, Souleymane Sow, Max Tardioli, Ivano Marescotti
Director: Lucio Pellegrini
Screenwriters: Stefano Bises, Laura Paolucci, Andrea Salerno
Producer: Domenico Procacci
Director of photography: Gogo Bianchi
Production designer: Roberto De Angelis
Music: Gabriele Roberto
Costume designer: Silvia Nebbiolo
Editor: Walter Fasano
Sales: Fandango Portobello
No rating, 103 minutes
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