Gorbaciof -- Film Review

Toni Servillo delivers another awards-worthy performance in the meticulously crafted "Gorbaciof."

VENICE -- In 2008, consummate Italian theater and film star Toni Servillo wowed the international film world with a small but unforgettable role in Matteo Garrone's "Gomorrah" and as the titular figure of Paolo Sorrentino's "Il Divo."

In Stefano Incerti's "Gorbaciof," Servillo wows again, and if this film gets the visibility it deserves -- its exclusion from competition here is mystifying -- it will enjoy a vigorous festival life and international distribution. The film also plays in Toronto.

Lean and meticulously acted, "Gorbaciof" is a throwback to sober 1970s cinema about lone wolves and small lives on the fringes of the underworld. The plot is similar to Sorrentino's "The Consequences of Love" (2004), in which Servillo played a Mafia accountant whose love for a younger woman has fatal consequences. But "Gorbaciof" offers greater depth of character, a better supporting cast and a more credible love story.

Marino Pacileo (Servillo), a cashier who works for a prison in Naples, goes by the nickname Gorbaciof -- the Italian pronunciation of Gorbachev -- on account of the big birthmark on his forehead. He is a somber man whose routine life consists only of work and gambling, the latter which he takes no less seriously than his attraction to Lila (Mi Yang), an illegal Chinese immigrant with whose father (Japanese actor Hal Yamanaouchi) he regularly plays poker.

Lila returns his feelings, and though they don't speak each other's languages, a tentative courtship begins. Gorbaciof takes Lila to the airport, to window shop and watch the planes. One night, they break into the city zoo. Their wordless interactions, stolen glances and furtive smiles are unexpectedly tender and paint a surprisingly delicate inner life of this gruff, solitary man.
But little does Lila know that her strong and protective "tiger" habitually borrows from the prison safe to buy her gifts and feed his gambling addiction or that his dream of creating a brighter future for the couple will lead to a dangerous decision.

Incerti and co-writer Diego De Silva keep all the dialogue to a bare minimum -- Gorbaciof doesn't even speak until about 15 minutes into the film. The editing and camerawork are equally bare bones and efficient. Nothing is thrown away or superfluous in this nuanced film.

Yamanouchi, Geppy Gleijese and Nello Mascia play their tough-guy roles with the appropriate macho aplomb, as does henchman Gaetano Bruno, who keeps appearing on the Lido in tiny, standout parts ("The Double Hour," "The White Space"). Hopefully, a bigger role is just around the corner.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Out of Competition)
Production: Devon Cinematografica, Immagine e Cinema, Surf Film, Teatri Uniti, The Bottom Line
Cast: Toni Servillo, Mi Yang, Geppy Gleijese, Gaetano Bruno, Hal Yamanouchi, Antonio Buonomo, Agostino Chiummariello, Nello Mascia
Director: Stefano Incerti
Screenwriters: Diego De Silva, Stefano Incerti
Producers: Luciano Martino, Edwige Fenech, Massimo Vigliar, Angelo Curti, Sergio Pelone
Director of photography: Pasquale Mari
Production designer: Lino Fiorito
Music: Teho Teardo
Costume designer: Ortensia De Francesco
Editor: Marco Spoletini
Sales: RAI Trade
No rating, 81 minutes