The Building Manager (L’amministratore): Rome Review

A colorful doc with a heart, though its social concerns often weigh it down and many references will be lost on international audiences.

Acclaimed documaker Vincenzo Marra penetrates into the heart of Naples by following a building manager at work.

One of the most authoritative filmmaking voices on the subject of Naples is certainly Vincenzo Marra, whose fifth documentary on his natal city, The Building Manager, uses the clever ruse of following a property administrator on his rounds of high- and low-rent neighborhoods. Watching him patch up crumbling walls and long-running tenant quarrels does offer an insider’s glimpse into people’s lives, but as might be expected, there is a lot of scope for boredom. What rescues the film are its subtle asides, like passing references to the camorra, the secret services and ample evidence of off-the-books accounting. But these will pass over the heads of non-Italian viewers, making the film primarily of local interest.

It was multi-hyphenate Marra’s casting coup and good fortune to sign up Umberto Montella as his main character, a wiry man around 60 who holds the film in the palm of his hand with his diplomatic skills and sheer humanity. His family business is run professionally out of a modest office, but there is quite a lot of footwork involved as Montella and his assistants pay visits on their tenants from upscale residential areas like Posillipo to the old inner city neighborhood of Sanità. In each building Montella has astutely chosen a special tenant to keep an eye on things, including an 80-year-old man who apparently was a local boss in the area.    

The overall flavor of the doc, all hand-held images shot by Marra himself in very cramped spaces, is bittersweet. On the one hand there is Montella’s strength of character (he talks about his recent fight with cancer at one point) and his talent as a peacekeeper, which often brings a smile; on the other side are painful glimpses into the poverty of Italians living through the current economic recession, who set aside ten dollars at a time, slowly working to pay off their condo charges.

Venue:  Rome Film Festival (Cine Maxxi competition), Nov. 8, 2013
Production companies: Axelotil Film, Meridiano Film, Kinoview
Director: Vincenzo Marra
Screenwriter: Vincenzo Marra
Producers:  Gianluca Arcopinto, Vincenzo Marra, Valeria Belbusti, Alessandra Buggenig
Director of photography: Vincenzo Marra
Editor:  Massimiliano Pacifico
No rating, 85 minutes.