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In the year of coronavirus, the Venice Film Festival opened on a low-key note with a local Italian drama that, though finely crafted by director Daniele Luchetti, pushed no envelope and made no splash. It also included a new credit at the end, which we’re likely to see for some time to come: “cast medical exams,” followed by a doctor’s name.
The Ties (Lacci) takes place in an airless pre-COVID space, primarily the apartments of a husband and his wife and his lover, where a tale of unfaithfulness and blame plays out with none of the pixie-ish sense of humor that lightens many Luchetti films. Popular Italian actors should help a lot at the domestic box office, beyond which the small screen looms.
Perhaps the point being made is that it’s not always a good idea to make up and go home after a spouse has an affair. The young married couple who promise each other that marriage is forever ends up a tortured, neurotic wreck. On the other hand, the enamored pair who tell themselves that love is enough, without any ties to bind them, simply ends. The story comes from a novel by Domenico Starnone, who also co-scripted, and whose long association with Luchetti reaches back to the director’s 1995 film School, which starred a young Silvio Orlando. His grasp of relationships is utterly authentic and dives deep into the cruel dynamics of a couple at the breaking point.
Set in the 1980s, the first act examines the marriage in crisis from the p.o.v. of the betrayed wife Vanda (Alba Rohrwacher), who is shocked when her husband of twelve years, Aldo (Luigi Lo Cascio), confesses he’s been sleeping with another woman at work. Rohrwacher plays the wronged woman with haughty hurt and is understandably concerned over the effect their break-up will have on their kids, Anna and her little brother Sandro. When her pain reaches its culmination, she takes a desperate measure, which her husband too quickly shrugs off.
Aldo, on the other hand, is depicted as a selfish heel and a bad father. Smitten by a pretty younger woman, Lidia (Linda Caridi, Ricordi?), who works with him on RAI radio, he does little to defend his moving in with her, and he doesn’t even request shared custody of the children when he and Vanda finalize their break-up.
Thirty years later, Laura Morante is playing an older, embittered Vanda and Silvio Orlando a much-mellowed Aldo. It is clear that Vanda won out over Lidia and they got back together, but the intervening years have not been happy. Now the story is told from Aldo’s p.o.v. and Vanda is revealed as a manipulating shrew who has punished him for his unfaithfulness every day of his life. Morante is convincing in the role, poking her verbal pitchfork into the poor, long-suffering Orlando without once raising her voice. In flashbacks, we discover that the Other Woman wasn’t all that evil, either. Maybe, Vanda reflects, they both would have been better off had Aldo followed his heart and stayed with her.
The film takes off into unexpected territory — it was about time — in the final act, when two more characters appear on the scene: the adult versions of Anna and Sandro. Given the time frame, they must be in their late thirties. Anna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) is broke, angry and full of resentment at her parents; Sandro (Adriano Giannini) is married with kids and apparently successful. Their true feelings explode in an exhilarating, highly theatrical and unrealistic final scene of rage and destruction that would be a psychotherapist’s dream.
Particularly noteworthy in the classy tech work are Andrea Castorina’s sets, where almost all the story takes place. There is Vanda and Aldo’s crowded, ugly Neapolitan apartment, Lidia’s airy open-space digs where the floor-to-ceiling picture windows cry freedom, and Aldo and Vanda’s final bookish apartment that becomes the scene of burglary and mayhem. Bach supplies the counterpoint.
Production companies: IBC Movie, RAI Cinema, Misia Films
Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Luigi Lo Cascio, Laura Morante, Silvio Orlando, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Adriano Giannini, Linda Caridi
Director: Daniele Luchetti
Screenwriters: Domenico Starnone, Francesco Piccolo, Daniele Luchetti based on Starnone’s novel
Producer: Beppe Caschetto
Associate producer: Valentina Merli
Director of photography: Ivan Casalgrandi
Production designer: Andrea Castorina
Costume designer: Massimo Cantini Parrini
Editors: Daniele Luchetti, Ael Dallier Vega
Venue: Venice Film Festival (out of competition)
World sales: MK2 Films
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