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Going by the off-putting English title A Lonely Hero, Gianni Amelio’s Intrepido is a likable if mostly local-interest attempt to tackle the unsexy subject of working class unemployment. It marks a rare excursion into quasi-comedy for a usually deadly serious director, whose interests have always gravitated to political topics, from Italy’s Red Brigades (Blow to the Heart, 1982) to modern-day China (The Missing Star, 2006). Casting popular Italo comic Antonio Albanese as an unemployed man who does temp jobs as they arise, Amelio takes his best shot at popularizing his social concerns while showing how the country’s economic collapse affects the weakest links in society. Albanese’s ability to put a comic face on a dramatic situation should touch a nerve domestically, but this overly crafted film lacks spontaneity on all fronts.
Antonio Pane (Albanese) is a jack-of-all-trades adept at subbing for laborers who need to take the day, or even a few hours, off work. In Italy the concept of temp work is new and revolutionary and usually illegal, judging from the gouty old coot who runs a boxing gym (Alfonso Santagata) and pockets a percentage of Antonio’s meager earnings. It’s the perfect excuse for Amelio and co-screenwriter Davide Lantieri to pan over working-class Milan, where the story unfolds. More or less to the rhythm of TV sketches, episodes show Antonio dashing to work in a variety of jobs and costumes. He stumbles around on girders with construction workers on a skyscraper, drives a tram, entertains kids in a mall and an old lady in the park, pastes posters a la The Bicycle Thief, and so on and on. The litany would grow tiresome were Albanese not so appealing an actor, able to add a badly needed note of surrealism and invention to the endless situations he finds himself in. His humble attitude, his love for work and tenderness toward his son and a poor girl he meets, all flash on a latter-day Charlie Chaplin.
The other character who works well in a nonstereotyped role is Antonio’s loving son Ivo (notably played by newcomer Gabriele Rendina). He is studying the saxophone in a music conservatory thanks to the upward economic mobility of his divorced mother (Sandra Ceccarelli.) In contrast to Dad, Ivo is headed for a job he loves, yet sadly he is stricken with panic attacks and a reputation for being unreliable.
One waits uneasily for the story to turn dark, but instead the film just runs out of energy in its second half. Though the screenplay steers fairly wide of cliche, an exception is Antonio’s moribund love interest (newcomer Livia Rossi), whose fate is telegraphed far in advance. The ending, anyway, is a happy surprise.
Milan is a brutal cityscape here, shot at its very worst. It often feels like top cinematographer Luca Bigazzi is a fish out of water in all this ugliness. But in exteriors, he captures some memorable images: Amelio’s trademark figures in a landscape; the wide open spaces of the impressive opening shot; an army of stadium cleaners moving in rows like in a science fiction film.
Franco Piersanti’s wide-ranging score is a welcome addition, though the film’s narrative signature revolves around the plaintive notes of Nature Boy played soulfully on the sax.
Venue: Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 4, 2013
Production companies: Palomar, Rai Cinema
Cast: Antonio Albanese, Gabriele Rendina, Livia Rossi, Alfonso Santagata, Sandra Ceccarelli
Director: Gianni Amelio
Screenwriters: Gianni Amelio, Davide Lantieri
Producer: Carlo Degli Esposti
Executive producer: Gianfranco Barbagallo
Director of photography: Luca Bigazzi
Production designer: Giancarlo Basili
Music: Franco Piersanti
Costume designer: Cristina Francioni
Editor: Simona Paggi
Sales: RAI Trade
No rating, 111 minutes.
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