'Dolce Fine Giornata': Film Review | Sundance 2019

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
An ineffectual allegory.

In Jacek Borcuch's drama, an older, Nobel prize-winning author takes up with a handsome young immigrant. Piqued political discourse ensues.

The rich they are a funny race. Take Polish-Jewish author Maria Linde (Krystyna Janda), Nobel Prize winner and owner of a villa in Tuscany, where she has spent a good portion of her life writing acclaimed literature and luxuriating in a patronizingly liberal kind of privilege. Co-writer and director Jacek Borcuch doesn't even begin Dolce Fine Giornata with Maria, instead focusing on a group of poverty-stricken fishermen who return from an early morning trawl with the fish that Maria will eventually, cheerily buy from them. There's a yawning gap between their experience and hers (no ethical consumption under late capitalism, and all), though Maria unsurprisingly fancies herself more enlightened than most.

In both visuals and dialogue, Borcuch lays on his themes about class and economic division pretty thick. The migrant masses braving the Mediterranean Sea to find both refuge and rejection on the island of Lampedusa is, of course, one of many of-the-moment references. And there's a barb-wire sculpture in the town square where Maria lives that takes on some eye-rolling metaphorical import by film's end. There's still reason in the early going to hope that Dolce Fine Giornata won't succumb to well-intentioned didacticism. The Tuscan scenery is so gorgeous and expansive that it draws you in. And Borcuch and his actors initially do a good job sketching in Maria's elite existence, with all its highfalutin talk about art and politics that has taken the place of effectual action.

For a few tense minutes, when one of Maria's grandchildren vanishes during a game of hide and seek, it actually seems as if the film is tipping into thriller territory. Has the boy been kidnapped? The suspense is quickly defused when the kid is returned by local cafe owner Nazeer (Lorenzo de Moor), a handsome immigrant with whom Maria just happens to be having an affair. So now some other, xenophobic apprehensions arise, at first between Maria and her adult daughter Anna (Kasia Smutniak), and then on a much larger scale after a terrorist attack in Rome leads a newly radicalized Maria to publicly liken suicide bombing to artistic expression.

That goes over really well, particularly with the local virile police officer, Lodovici (Vincent Riotta), his irritation with Maria reaching boiling point in tandem with his old-school jingoism. It's not that Maria is entirely in the right, either. And Janda, a seasoned performer who has worked with Istvan Szabo (in 1981's Mephisto) and Krzysztof Kieslowski (in part of his sprawling Dekalog), at least makes a formidable attempt to complicate her character, never shying away from Maria's prickly or callow aspects even in her supposed revolutionary enlightenment.

As Maria runs more and more afoul of her family, the powers-that-be and her paramour (Nazeer receives the brunt of the racist sentiment stirred up by Maria's actions), Dolce Fine Giornata comes to feel like a soapbox from which Borcuch is proclaiming some vague treatise about the limits of art and empathy. Ecumenical outreach sure is difficult. But it doesn't make for great drama.

Production company: No Sugar Films
Director: Jacek Borcuch
Screenwriters: Jacek Borcuch, Szczepan Twardoch
Cast: Krystyna Janda, Kasia Smutniak, Vincent Riotta, Antonio Catania, Lorenzo de Moor, Robin Renucci
Director of photography: MichaƂ Dymek
Composer: Daniel Bloom
Editor: Przemyslaw Chruscielewski
Producer: Marta Habior
Development producer: Marta Lewandowska
Co-producers: Dymitr Solomko, Michal Turnau, Michal Cechnicki
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Drama)

96 minutes