I Travel Alone (Viaggio Sola): Cannes Review

I Travel Alone - H - 2013
Cleverly conceived, routinely handled Italian dramedy travels to mostly expected places.

Writer-director Maria Sole Tognazzi's latest dramedy centers on a hotel critic who reviews Europe’s most exclusive resorts.

Europeans are hardly known for the quality of their customer service, so making a film about a woman whose job it is to fix that sounds like a pretty good concept. In this regard, Maria Sole Tognazzi’s breezy Italian dramedy I Travel Alone (Viaggio Sola) has some clever ideas up its sleeve, but otherwise fails to provoke much interest in the travails of its 40-something central character -- a five-star hotel mystery guest who’s as good at criticizing others as she is oblivious to her own glaring imperfections. Part Up in the Air and part Eat Pray Love, yet never all that funny or endearing, this spring sleeper hit in Italy should see fest bookings and small-scale Euro theatrical, while a smarter Hollywood version could spin its pitch into gold.

Irene (Margherita Buy) is a high-class hotel critic who travels to Europe’s most exclusive resorts, only to spend her time writing up elaborately detailed reports about all the things the staff is doing wrong. Whether timing the room service, taking the temperature of white wine or inspecting dust levels with lint gloves, her voyages are far from relaxing, while her home life is pretty much nonexistent -- save for a longstanding friendship with handsome organic food purveyor Andrea (Stefano Accorsi).

But when Andrea tells her that his latest one-night stand is unexpectedly pregnant, it throws Irene’s hermetically sealed ways out of whack, as does the revelation that her sister, Silvia (Fabrizia Sacchi) and brother-in-law, Tommaso (Gian Marco Tognazzi) are suffering through some major marital difficulties. Meanwhile, Irene’s decided to take on even more work, traveling from one hotel to another, including a stopover in Morocco where she nearly gets together with a charming Frenchmen, until learning that he too has been spoken for.

While we’ve all seen comedies about lovesick, upper-bourgeois Europeans before, Tognazzi, along with co-writers Ivan Cotroneo and Francesca Marciano, adds a welcome twist to the genre by having Irene play an outsider in both her personal and professional worlds, as if she were a tourist witnessing her own life from a distance.  Yet even if a late encounter with the freethinking intellectual Kate (Mike Leigh veteran Lesley Manville) makes her momentarily reconsider things, including the value of 5-star ratings (“Luxury is a form of deceit,” Kate tells her), there’s really not much of an evolution in Irene’s solo voyage, while her character’s psychology remains fairly muted despite what ultimately happens with Andrea and Silvia.

Nonetheless, Buy (Habemus Papum) offers up a convincingly restrained performance that adds some depth, though little humor, to the proceedings, while Accorsi (Romanzo Criminale) is strong as her seductive and apprehensive buddy. Polished tech credits, including slickly lit photography by Arnaldo Catinari and uber-chic production design by Roberto De Angelis, handsomely capture all the snazzy locations, even if the film seems to be saying that such places are actually less appealing than they look.

Production companies: Biancafilm, Rai Cinema

Cast: Margherita Buy, Stefano Accorsi, Fabrizia Sacchi, Gian Marco Tognazzi, Lesley Manville

Director: Maria Sole Tognazzi

Screenwriters: Ivan Cotroneo, Francesca Marciano, Maria Sole Tognazzi

Producer: Donatella Botti

Director of photography: Arnaldo Catinari

Production designer: Roberto De Angelis

Costume designer: Antonella Cannarozzi

Editor: Walter Fasano

Sales Agent: Rai Cinema

No rating, 86 minutes