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Almost a decade has gone by since talented Italian writer-director Valerio Mieli unfroze hearts with Ten Winters, his on-again, off-again love story about a couple who meet in college that won numerous best first-film awards. The theme of a love affair interrupted and reborn after various vicissitudes reappears in Remember? (Ricordi?), but this time around it’s elaborated through the sophisticated intercutting of past, present and future events and memories. The sheer ambition of the project and the painstaking way it has been shot and edited, not to mention its idyllic/portentous atmosphere, bring to mind lofty models like Terrence Malick, though here the drama between leads Luca Marinelli and Linda Caridi has its lighter, rom-com moments that bring a smile. After getting off to a fast start in Venice’s Giornate degli Autori, it found solid appreciation with El Gouna audiences and should pick up theatrical play dates through Le Pacte.
For all its fetching moments, however, the film does tend to strain for universal significance. A little annoyingly, as though to underline the characters’ status as human types, Mieli coyly refuses to name Him and Her. So this is Everybody’s love story and, to be honest, a lot of viewers are going to recognize themselves in the happy-sad incidents, disappointments and surprises that go into making a romance, breaking up and making up again.
But beyond the narrative level is a whole lot more. Using camera techniques, slow motion, superimposed images and constant back-and-forth editing (the pic is impressively cut without disorienting the viewer by Desideria Rayner), Mieli conveys a strong sense of the fluidity of time and the impermanence of memory. Almost before the characters’ feelings can be grasped and understood, they impalpably dissolve into something else. As the pair grope their way through the modern conventions of romance and relationships, they test boundaries, change their minds, have flashes of recognition amid a flurry of doubts. Later, as they look back in time, they see things differently.
They meet at a relaxed party, in the evening, in a garden. She is breathtakingly innocent in a white dress (the exact color changes over the course of their memories) on a festooned swing, smiling in satisfaction with the world. He’s the tall dark stranger with brooding depths, weighed down by an unhappy childhood. It’s a classic case of Ms. Optimist meeting Mr. Pessimist and they discover, to their surprise, that they rather enjoy each other’s company. Putting aside the gloomy attitude he wears like a badge of defiance, they aren’t so different. He looks at her and marvels out loud, “You’re happy but not stupid.” The music is deep and hopeful.
Being young, their philosophical bent seems natural and it serves to introduce the theme of time and emotional memory. She says only the present exists, while he asserts the present doesn’t exist. In fact, he lives in the past with his unhappy memories of a girl with red hair (Camilla Diana). While she comes from a well-to-do, close-knit family, his few happy childhood memories are overwhelmed by recollections of ferocious arguments between his parents and his mother’s alcoholism.
He takes her to visit the now-empty apartment where he lived as a boy, the very scene of his greatest traumas and unhappiness. Incredibly, they decide to rent it and live together. They seem happy. Just when everything is going their way, he posits (much to her dismay) that their love story has probably mutated into friendship. “It’ll never be as good as this again!” he realizes, gazing into the future darkly.
Halfway through the film, the melody turns into sad strings. In her distress and desire to talk to someone, she seeks out his best friend Marco (Giovanni Anzaldo). She and He tell each other (at different times) that they don’t love the other anymore. “It’s not our fault,” he protests. “It began ending when it started.” They break up and drift into other affairs with other people.
All of this has the ring of probability, including the moment in the story when their roles seem to reverse. He has learned that life is not all doom and gloom; she takes off her rose-tinted glasses and sees the world more realistically in all its nuances, moods and imperfections. But much time has to pass and pain be endured before they can take a fresh look at their relationship. Put it down to the many permutations between Caridi’s freshly engaging She and Marinelli’s wounded, darkly romantic He, but if the denouement is the opposite of La La Land, it feels very right for this story.
The tech work plays a towering role in creating the atmosphere of this seemingly low-budget film, which is built shot by shot out of Daria D’Antonio’s dreamy cinematography that makes cunning use of shallow focus and hazy, indistinct backgrounds; Mauro Vanzati’s sets, poised between the uncertain colors of memory and the solidity of classic Italian architecture; and Rayner’s superb editing.
Production companies: Bibi Film, Les Film d’Ici in association with Rai Cinema, Cattleya
Cast: Luca Marinelli, Linda Caridi, Giovanni Anzaldo, Camilla Diana
Director-screenwriter: Valerio Mieli
Producer: Angelo Barbagallo
Co-producer: Laura Briand
Director of photography: Daria D’Antonio
Production designer: Mauro Vanzati
Costume designers: Loredana Buscemi, Gaia Calderonehh
Editor: Desideria Rayner
Casting director: Francesca Borromeo
Venue: El Gouna Film Festival
World sales: Le Pacte
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