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ROME — Carlo Mazzacurati’s “The Right Distance” may not be the director’s best film, but is stronger and tighter than what he’s produced in the last decade. An inconsistent director, Mazzacurati does warm to making movies about marginalized characters without dipping too far into the syrupy posturing that passes as small-town nostalgia in much of today’s Italian cinema. Despite overreaching ambitions, word-of-mouth and positive local reviews could help boost figures as it carves out an arthouse niche for itself. Released in Italy by 01 Distribution on October 20, the day after its RomeCinemaFest screening, it modestly grossed under half a million euros in its first week.
This film opens with a spectacularly sunny and sweeping shot of the lush countryside along the banks of the River Po, the best camerawork by an otherwise underused Luca Bigazzi. It then homes in on a bus carrying — we are told through a young man’s voiceover — Mara (Valentina Lodovini), the pretty elementary school substitute teacher who will change his life forever, to his sleepy town of Concadalbero.
A loner who recently lost his mother, 18 year-old Giovanni (Giovanni Capovilla, making an impressive feature debut) tells us about his first “adult” crush on 30 year-old Mara, along the way providing background information on Concadalbero and its inhabitants.
Giovanni is a budding journalist obsessed with a recent rash of serial dog killings. He lands a job writing anonymously for a local paper, whose stereotypically cantankerous editor (Mazzacurati regular Fabrizio Bentivoglio) tells him to always keep the “right distance” between himself and a story — not too far so as to lose empathy, not too close so as to become emotionally involved.
The story then shifts to Mara, who in emails to a friend back in Florence exalts the peace of rural living but complains that pickings are slim among the local men. The only ones interested are philandering tobacconist Amos (Giuseppe Battiston, who picked up a best acting award at the Fest for his performance) and Hassan (Ahmed Hafiene), a Tunisian mechanic who spies on Mara from the woods by her house, and is in turn spied on by Giovanni.
After catching Hassan in the act, Mara first scorns him but is won over by his gentle shyness and they begin dating. He falls hard, yet she is just passing through, en route to more gratifying work in Brazil.
Just when you think that apart from their personal drama, and the disturbing canine slayings, nothing much happens in Concadalbero — even the racism endured by many immigrants in Italy seems relatively benign here — an unexpected brutal murder turns the film into a whodunit in the third, and weakest, act.
Throughout the music by San Francisco acoustic chamber trio Tin Hat is appropriately haunting but “Distance” ultimately stretches itself thin. Two of its plot threads — the poignant tale about growing up in “Anytown,” Italy and the unfulfilled love story — are almost overshadowed by a facile courtroom drama and investigation that belie the emotional realism of the first two thirds of the film. Which is a shame, because what lies beneath is a compelling story on how human triumphs and tragedies stem, in equal measure, from our inability to maintain the right distance in life.
THE RIGHT DISTANCE
Fandango, RAI Cinema
Director: Carlo Mazzacurati
Writers: Carlo Mazzacurati, Doriana Leondeff, Marco Pettenello, Claudio Piersanti
Producer: Domenico Procacci
Director of photography: Luca Bigazzi
Production designer: Giancarlo Basili
Music: Tin Hat
Costume designer: Francesca Sartori
Editor: Paolo Cottignola
Giovanni: Giovanni Capovilla
Mara: Valentina Lodovini
Hassan: Ahmed Hafiene
Amos: Giuseppe Battiston
Bencivegna: Fabrizio Bentivoglio
Bolla: Roberto Abbiati
Franco: Natalino Balasso
Guido: Stefano Scandaletti
Running time — 107 minutes
No MPAA rating
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