'Happy Times Will Come Soon' ('I tempi felici verranno presto'): Cannes Review

Happy Times Will Come Soon 3 - H 2016
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Rustic beauty and arcane storytelling.

Set in a northern Italian countryside across two historical periods, Italian director Alessandro Comodin’s first fictional feature unspools in the Critics’ Week sidebar at Cannes.

Three years after reaping awards galore with the beautiful but slightly disorienting docudrama Summer of Giacomo, Italian filmmaker Alessandro Comodin returns with a narrative feature many times more mind-bending than its predecessor. A blend of rural legends, rustic beauty and rock numbers (the end credits, for example, are backed by a song with the repeated refrain of “F— Schopenhauer”), Happy Times Will Come Soon heralds an innovative filmmaker yet to master the art of combining wildly diverse ideas into a cohesive whole.

Spread across two distant historical epochs — the film begins somewhere in a forest at what seems to be the tail end of World War II, and ends in a slickly modern Italian prison of the present day — Happy Times, shot on 35mm in the 4:3 ratio, is dreamily diverting at its best and simply confusing at its worst. Rather than heeding criticism of the jarring final twist of Giacomo — a feature about two teens enjoying a sun-kissed, sensual time in the countryside — Comodin seems to have embraced incoherence as a misguided stylistic trait.

Given his past pedigree with awards at Cannes (where his first short documentary screened at the Directors’ Fortnight in 2008) and Locarno (which bestowed upon him its top prize for new filmmakers in 2011), the helmer should be able to steer Happy Times through European auteur-inclined festivals. It will be more of a challenge for him and his reps, The Match Factory, to break the film beyond this niche.

Set mostly around the picturesque Aosta valley in northwestern Italy, the pic is broadly divided into three chapters. In the first, two young army deserters — the blond and angelic-looking Tomasso (Erikas Sizonovas) and the mustachioed and rugged Arturo (Luca Bernardi) — attempt to survive in the wild by collecting fungi, hunting rabbits and scavenging foodstuff and firearms in far-flung hamlets. While never mentioned, a World War II setting is suggested and soon there is a deadly run-in with gun-wielding villagers.

With barely a fade to black or a visual interlude, however, the film cuts abruptly to its modern-day second chapter, as people regale an off-screen interviewer with a folk tale about a wolf’s abduction of an ailing young Paris-based woman visiting her Italian father’s family in the area. Barely has the final storyteller’s voice faded that we actually see the legend unfolding on screen, as Ariane (French actor Sabrina Seveycou) is shown aimlessly ambling around under gray skies in her village.

Digging at a mysterious hole, she goes underground before emerging in another time and space, where she basks in golden sunlight, bathes in the water and is spotted by Tomasso, very much alive and now prowling around like an animal. This encounter sparks the pic’s final chapter, as the amorous relationship between Ariane and Tomasso turns feral and then goes awry. An enigmatic leap forward, however, sees Tomasso ending up in a modern jail, bonding with friendly inmates while reflecting on his existence as, somehow, The Pogues’ version of the Irish prison-set ballad "The Auld Triangle" plays on the soundtrack.

This awkward image-sound combination sums up the problem of Happy Times. While the film certainly boasts visual splendor, these intriguing moments — frantic handheld camerawork following the young men through the forests, lyrical dolly shots highlighting the mysterious menaces of the hole connecting the worlds of Ariane and Tomasso — remain disjointed in the final mix. If Comodin and his collaborators (including Portuguese editor Joao Nicolau, who worked with the director on Giacomo) can tighten their sprawling instincts, better art will certainly be around the corner.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Special Screening)
Production companies: OKTA Film and Shellac Sud with RAI Cinema
Cast: Sabrina Seveycou, Erikas Sizonovas, Luca Bernardi
Director: Alessandro Comodin
Screenwriters: Alessandro Comodin, Milena Magnani
Executive producer: Adriano Bassi
Director of photography: Tristan Bordmann
Set designers: Valentina Ferroni, Mario Scarzella
Costume designer: Patrizia Mazzon
Editors: Joao Nicolau, Alessandro Comodin
Music: Drache, Dupap
Casting director: Alexandre Nazarian
International sales: The Match Factory

In Italian

Not rated, 102 minutes