The Human Factor (La variabile umana): Locarno Review

The Human Factor - H - 2013
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Genre trappings get in the way of the real drama.

The first fiction feature of Italian documentary filmmaker Bruno Oliviero stars Silvio Orlando, Giuseppe Batiston and impressive newcomer Alice Raffaelli.

A weary-eyed Milanese police inspector and his gun-toting teenage daughter are in for a bumpy ride in The Human Factor, the fiction feature debut of Italian documentary director Bruno Oliviero (MM Milano Mafia).

A father-daughter drama with the superficial trappings of a policier and film noir, Oliviero and co-screenwriters Valentina Cicogna and Doriana Leondoff never quite successfully manage to fuse the film’s different genres into a single whole, with the case of a murdered man serving as an entry point ­— but not much more — into the familial tragedy of a Dad and his teenage offspring who simply stopped talking the day their wife and mother died.

The film, which also tries to offer a dark vision of contemporary northern Italy, was part of Locarno’s Piazza Grande line-up and will be released locally Aug. 29, where the star power of actors Silvio Orlando and Giuseppe Battiston should help attract eyeballs. Further fest travel is possible.

Star inspector Monaco (Orlando) has been burying himself in paperwork since the death of his wife, three years earlier, and the bags under his eyes, the size of vintage Louis Vuitton trunks, betray he practically hasn’t slept since. But his younger protégé, Levi (Battiston), asks him to leave the office and accompany him to a crime scene; it’s a delicate case since the murder victim (Francesco Palamini) was a high-profile personality from Milan’s nightlife.

On the same night as the killing, Monaco’s adolescent daughter, Linda (Alice Raffaelli), technically still a minor, is brought in for having used a gun to shoot at some bottles with her friends. It takes almost an hour, however, for Monaco to put two and two together about this odd timing of events, something audiences used to a steady diet of police serials will take a few minutes at most.

Indeed, there’s a general narrative dosage problem, with characters coming to certain conclusions long after audiences have figured things out, which robs the proceedings of suspense. This would be fine if Oliviero wanted to make a pure family drama about a father and daughter — and there are some scenes in the early going at Monaco’s home that point in this direction, with neither speaking much and both clearly anesthetized by their grief and incapacity to imagine what life without their wife and mother would look like.

But the 82-minute film also half-heartedly dedicates time to the murder case and the people associated with it, only partially developing such ideas as Levi’s substitute-father relationship with Linda before he practically disappears in the film’s latter reels. Like the film’s surface examination of Milan’s seedy underbelly (also explored in Oliviero’s documentaries), the police-thriller genre tropes get in the way of rather than facility access to a deeper exploration of the two wounded people at the story’s center.

Orlando can do weary in his sleep and has good (often negative) chemistry with impressive newcomer Raffaelli, who’s especially noteworthy in the scenes that don’t rely on dialog.

The work of cinematographer Renaud Personnaz is the standout technical contribution, staying far away from anything too documentary-like. Instead, Personnaz and Oliviero play around with focus, speed and saturation, giving the images a detached quality that suggests that both protagonists are witnessing their own lives as if they are happening to someone else. The complex soundscape further reinforces this idea, though the same can’t quite be said of the score from frequent Clint Eastwood-collaborator Michael Stevens.

The costumes from Silvia Nebiolo (also one of the production designers) are problematic in that the camera seems to ogle Linda, a minor in the film, in outfits that are occasionally too skimpy — any father’s worst nightmare. 

Venue: Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande)
Production companies: Lumiere Co., Invisibile Film, Rai Cinema, Intramovies, Movie People
Cast: Silvio Orlando, Giuseppe Battiston, Alice Raffaelli, Sandra Ceccarelli, Renato Sarti, Arianna Scommegna, Giorgia Senesi, Dafne Masin, Francesco Palamini
Director: Bruno Oliviero
Screenwriters: Bruno Oliviero, Valentina Cicogna, Doriana Leondoff
Producers: Lionello Cerri, Gabriella Manfre
Director of photography: Renaud Personnaz
Production designers: Silvia Nebiolo, Luigi Maresca
Music:  Michael Stevens
Costume designer: Silvia Nebiolo
Editor: Carlotta Cristiani
Sales: Intramovies
No rating, 82 minutes.