A 40-ish Italian wannabe writer and substitute teacher becomes a couch nomad after his girlfriend dumps him in the generically named but very enjoyable The Guest (L’ospite). This second outing from writer-director Duccio Chiarini, after his Venice and Berlin-selected debut, 2014’s Short Skin, slowly morphs from a comedy into an affecting melodrama that charts the difficulties of a generation less interested in commitment, whether it be in relationships, jobs or, more generally, in life. Though Chiarini and his three fellow screenwriters finally opt for a movie ending instead of one that would feel more life like and true for these characters, this Locarno Piazza Grande title should nonetheless find a measure of commercial success even beyond Italy’s borders.
The opening shot immediately throws the audience into the thick of things as a naked Chiara (Silvia D’Amico) has to watch how the face of her partner, Guido (Daniele Parisi), disappears between her legs to try and locate a broken condom. The situation could have been relatively easily resolved with a morning-after pill but instead the broken prophylactic signals a much greater rift, as Guido wonders aloud whether they should take it as a sign and try to have a child anyway and Chiara is mortified by his suggestion. She had been very clear about not wanting children before they “have achieved something in life,” with Guido’s occasional stints as a substitute teacher and his book on Calvino, which still hasn’t been published, clearly disqualifying him. On top of that, the woman he thought was the love of his life is considering a job offer from Canada, though she hadn’t (yet?) told Guido about it. Their tiff finally leads to Guido packing his bags and leaving their shared apartment, though it is clear he seems to think their break will only be temporary.
Chiarini — who wrote the screenplay with Roan Johnson, Davide Lantieri and Marco Pettenello (also a co-writer on Short Skin) — manages to squeeze a lot of laughs into the first act, as Guido has to quickly and maladroitly adjust to the situation. It isn’t just that he has suddenly become homeless but also that he thought that things were going pretty well in general and suddenly everything seems open for debate just when he started thinking that he was settling down.
With a beard sporting a few hints of grey and the onset of male-pattern baldness, the protagonist clearly looks much too old to become adept at couch surfing, though that is exactly what happens since he still needs to sleep somewhere. So he becomes the titular “guest” at the homes of friends and family. He moves between the abode of his middle-aged parents (Milvia Marigliano, Sergio Pierattini); the house of Pietro (Guglielmo Favila) and Lucia (Anna Bellato), Pietro’s pregnant other half who is eyeing the same grant as Guido; and Dario (Daniele Natali), who is together with Roberta (mono-monikered singer and actress Thony), a cardiologist, though he’s secretly into someone else as well.
Most of the humor is observational, though there are some classic comedy-of-errors bits as well and one hilarious — if rather coarse — gag that involves a piece of underwear Guido supposes is from Chiara. But as the story evolves, the laughs slowly evaporate and more serious matters come to the fore. There’s a real heartfelt moment when Chiara tells him she has decided to take the job in Canada but wants to go abroad alone, followed not much later by a medical revelation involving Guido’s father that is also way more sobering than it is funny.
The transformation from comedy into sincere melodrama isn’t entirely smooth, though Parisi and his fellow actors are likable enough for viewers to want to stick with them when the going gets tougher. There are also a few subplots that aren’t all that pertinent, especially those involving Guido’s professional life. But even if the chuckles stop coming and there are some loose ends, a real sense of empathy develops for Guido and those around him. Indeed, all the couples in his life that Guido thought were pretty much perfect all turn out to be more complex, with their own problems and moments of joy.
That said, the film’s last scenes feel a little too much like wish fulfillment, even if Chiarini doesn’t go for the most obvious of endings. For most of its running time, The Guest is very perceptive about how the generation of people in their late 30s and early 40s are afraid of commitment, and even decision-making in general, something that of course frustrates the laws of all romantic stories. So the ending feels like something out of a movie rather than something out of real life, though it would be hard to argue that Guido doesn’t deserve it.
Production design and cinematography, the latter again by Turkish maestro Baris Ozbicer, showcase a middle-class life that’s not quite at the level of property porn yet, while Tyler Ramsey’s sparingly used score is frequently soothing without ever becoming treacly.
Production companies: Mood Film, Rai Cinema
Cast: Daniele Parisi, Silvia D’Amico, Anna Bellato, Thony, Sergio Pierattini, Milvia Marigliano, Daniele Natali, Guglielmo Favilla
Director: Duccio Chiarini
Screenplay: Duccio Chiarini, Roan Johnson, Davide Lantieri, Marco Pettenello
Producer: Tommaso Arrighi
Executive producer: Francesca Zanza
Director of photography: Baris Ozbicer
Production designer: Laura Boni
Costume designer: Kay Devanthey
Editor: Roberto Di Tanna
Music: Tyler Ramsey
Casting: Chiara Natalucci
Sales: Urban Distribution International
Venue: Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande)
No rating, 94 minutes