Days and Clouds




ROME -- Silvio Soldini, best known for his multiple award-winning "Bread and Tulips" from 2000, may have toned down his lyrical ways in "Clouds and Days," but he has not strayed from his favorite subject matter -- a middle-aged couple in crisis. Here Soldini forgoes his trademark fairy tale or literary touches (such as in 2002's "Burning in the Wind") for austere naturalism, complete with handheld camerawork that may not be entirely justified but lends itself to the film's verite feel.

A universal story with which almost anyone can identify, the film was released domestically Oct. 26 on 176 screens, coming in fifth at the boxoffice with nearly €725,000 grossed from its opening weekend -- over half of what Soldini's previous title, "Agata and the Storm" (2004), took in overall at home.

In the U.S., "Days" will be most-successful among highbrow audiences with a taste for smart European fare and the Italian realism of a bygone era. It should also win back European audiences -- in particular in Switzerland and Germany, where he has a large following -- ready for a more mature story from the director.

Although Michele (Antonio Albanese) has a solid marriage, he waits until his wife Elsa (Margherita Buy) has obtained her art history degree to tell her that he was fired two months earlier by the company he helped create. They will have to sell their lavish home immediately. Reeling from shock over the abysmal state of their finances, she quickly finds part-time work as a telemarketer while he goes on fruitless job interviews for positions for which he is overqualified.

Depressed, Michele begins skipping the interviews to do menial work, first as a moped messenger then as a handyman with two of his former employees (Giuseppe Battiston and Antonio Carlo Francini). Eventually, he refuses to get out bed, forcing Elsa to accept a full-time office job and take over his role as the family breadwinner. As their life of privilege slips further away, they start taking their frustrations out on one another and their 20-year-old daughter Alice (Alba Rohrwacher).

The intelligently crafted plot (by Soldini, his longstanding collaborator Doriana Leondeff, Francesco Piccolo and Federica Pontremoli) is balanced by comedic moments that keep it from becoming bleak. The film relies more on nuance rather than dramatic peaks. One particularly gripping, wordless scene comes when Alice, oblivious to her parents' problems, pulls up next to Michele, who is on a moped delivering a package, at a stoplight.

Soldini also reigns in Albanese (a renowned comic prone to hamming it up) and Buy (who has perfected the role of the neurotic urbanite), drawing from them two sober, highly credible performances that reflect how life's unexpected struggles can wear away at even the most loving relationships.

However, two hours on the exhaustive, day-by-day fallout of these struggles weighs down rather than heightens the tension and threat to Elsa and Michele's livelihood and love (even when she begins flirting with a co-worker). At times "Days" seems more of a social commentary on the shrinking middle class than the will-they-or-won't-they-make-it story at the heart of the film.

Lumiere & Co., Amka Films, RTSI
Director: Silvio Soldin
Writers: Soldini, Doriana Leondeff, Francesco Piccolo, Federica Pontremoli
Producer: Lionello Cerri
Executive producer: Tiziana Soudani
Director of photography: Ramiro Civita
Production designer: Paolo Bizzarri
Music: Giovanni Venosta
Costume designers: Silvia Nebiolo, Patrizia Mazzon
Editor: Carlotta Cristiani
Elsa: Margherita Buy
Michele: Antonio Albanese
Alice: Alba Rohrwacher
Vito: Giuseppe Battiston
Riki: Fabio Troiano
Nadia: Carla Signoris
Salviati: Paolo Sassanelli
Luciano: Antonio Carlo Francini
Running time -- 117 minutes
No MPAA rating