Like the Wind (Come il vento): Rome Review

A tragic biopic about a brave but fragile woman spins its wheels dramatically, but is a fine vehicle for star Valeria Golino.

Valeria Golino portrays Italian prison governor Armida Miserere as a brave woman in a man’s world.

Inspired by the unusual and ultimately tragic life of Armida Miserere, one of Italy’s first female prison governors, Like the Wind reaches for gripping biography through its talented protag Valeria Golino, but the key keeps slipping out of reach of the slow-moving, repetitious screenplay. The depth of Golino’s performance will be reason enough for many to watch the film, but outside festivals and Italian art house audiences, who are likely to be familiar with her tragic life story, it will be hard for a film radiating a sense of oppression and impending doom to attract much interest. Still, there is an undeniable fascination in being taken behind the scenes in a maximum security prison. Police and military personnel should feel comfortable with the film’s portrayal of prison officers as self-sacrificing servants of the law, a switch from many Italian films that cast them as anything but.

Director Marco Simone Puccioni has an obvious gift for directing actresses, as seen in his previous feature, Shelter Me, which earned co-stars Maria de Medeiros and Antonia Liskova multiple kudos. More should be forthcoming for Golino’s portrayal of the edgy, chain-smoking Armida, a woman tough and fragile at the same time; highly focused on her work and its ability to make a change in the world, while unable to accept a great personal loss.

Puccioni, who co-wrote with award-winning screenwriter Heidrun Schleef and playwright Nicola Lusuardi, begins the story in 1989, when the attractive 33-year-old Armida is governor of Opera Prison in Milan and expecting a baby. Her companion Umberto (an affectionate, creative Filippo Timi) works in rehab directing the prisoners in plays. His unbending faith in them seems to have a positive impact, whereas Armida’s toughness and no-nonsense insistence on discipline earns her their grudging respect but no love. Both are very convinced of the value of what they are doing, however.

Puccioni refreshingly finds no contradiction in Armida’s high-powered profession and her femininity, which is boldly displayed in an early scene as she rises naked from bed with Umberto. But their dream of having a child ends abruptly and, as is anticipated in the tensely paced opening scenes, Umberto is shot to death in his car by two killers on a motorcycle. Each and every scene is played out dramatically without ellipsis: the killing, the police notifying Armida, her identification of the body in the morgue, the funeral. However sensitively Golino handles these scenes, they take up a lot of screen time.

The rest of the film shows her bravely attending to duty and accepting transfers to the most difficult prisons, which are located in scenic places like Sulmona in the Abruzzo mountains and the beautiful off-limits island of Pianosa, where 300 of the most dangerous mafia and camorra criminals were guarded by 700 agents. When Armida arrives to direct the prison, she is the only woman on the island. Wherever she is transferred, she commands respect from her officers, who tend to behave impeccably and they all seem a little in love with her, like the handsome Sicilian agent Riccardo (Francesco Scianna, Baaria).

She doesn’t hesitate when the famous investigating magistrate Gian Carlo Caselli requests that she step in for the late governor of the Ucciardone prison in Palermo, who has just been assassinated. But here the threats to her life come too close for comfort. Her seemingly endless transfers begin to feel like a kind of loop going nowhere. A potentially interesting subplot in which she tries to find out who killed Umberto is left dangling, even after his killers are finally caught and put on trial. Their statements cast doubt on Umberto’s character and do little to soothe Armida’s thirst for justice.

By closely following the real Miserere’s life, the film loses focus and closure towards the end, just like its protagonist. Probably because she can never completely put Umberto out of her mind, all her efforts to find a new relationship fail, and the film takes a very dark turn leading to a tragic finale, all too obviously paralleling a religious procession dedicated to the Madonna of Seven Sorrows.

Shigeru Umebayashi’s excellent modern score is a fine accompaniment for the atmospheric photography of Gherardo Gossi, which gives the story a strong feeling of place and time while it contrasts oppressive interiors with the freedom of the open air.

Venue:  Rome Film Festival (out of competition), Nov. 9, 2013
Production companies: Intelfilm, Les Films du Present in association with RAI Cinema, Red Carpet, Amovie, Revolver
Cast: Valeria Golino, Filippo Timi, Francesco Scianna, Chiara Caselli, Marcello Mazzarella
Director: Marco Simone Puccioni
Screenwriters: Heidrun Schleef, Marco Simone Puccioni, Nicola Lusuardi
Producers: Giampietro Preziosa, Marco Simone Puccioni
Coproducers: Andrea Iervolino, Sauro Falchi, Anna Falchi, Patrice Nezan
Executive producer: Davide Tovi
Director of photography: Gherardo Gossi
Production designer: Emita Frigato
Costumes: Ginevra Polverelli
Music: Shigeru Umebayashi
Editors: Roberto Missiroli, Catherine Maximoff  
No rating, 110 minutes.

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