The Little Gem (Il Gioiellino): Film Review

Tale of Italy’s largest corporate fraud case lacks the intensity to be a gripping big-screen experience.

Impeccably designed and acted, Andrea Molaioli’s sophomore feature is a character study lacks the action and urgency necessary to bring a story of this magnitude successfully to the big screen.

ROME — Impeccably designed and acted, Andrea Molaioli’s sophomore featureIl Gioellino (The Little Gem) is a character study inspired by the men behind Italy’s largest corporate scandal, but lacks the action and urgency necessary to bring a story of this magnitude successfully to the big screen. Because it’s more arthouse than it should be given the timely, explosive subject matter, its international life will be restricted to specialty theatres. The smart but plodding film grossed a lukewarm half million euros its first week on release in Italy.

To see Il Gioellino is to witness a curious ambivalence in the portrayal of the players behind the 2003 collapse of Italian food giant Parmalat: Sure, they had a penchant for corruption, but they were also gentlemen-industrialists of a bygone era, struggling to survive today’s cutthroat market. This is a portrayal that doesn’t do justice to decades of fraud that led to a bankruptcy that cost investors and employees 14 billion euros and sent company captains to jail.

In Il Gioellino, Parmalat is replaced with the fictitious company Leda, which shrewd and stately businessman Amanzio Rastelli (Remo Girone) has, in the ‘80s in just a few decades, turned into a multinational food conglomerate and a leading dairy producer worldwide. It’s a far cry from the cheese and sausage shop Rastelli inherited from his father.

Girone emanates from his every pore the aura of an undisputed pillar of business, church and society, who trusts only his calculated, scowling chief financial officer Ernesto Botta (Toni Servillo) to run the company alongside him. When market shifts strain company finances, Botta convinces Rastelli to take Leda public.

However, Leda’s corporate structure – much of it built on bribes to politicians and financial authorities – can’t sustain the stock market boom. Rastelli and Botta unsuccessfully yo-yo from Moscow to New York to drum up much-needed capital, legally or illegally.

As the company’s liquid assets dwindle, they survive by faking the books, which the (mostly U.S.) banks are willing to go along with. This goes on for years, until the paper shredders are rolled out when Leda’s illicit operations are finally bought to light. Along the way, one of company’s higher-ups commits suicide, the film’s only real nod to the true scope of the vile deeds underfoot.

While they deserve much praise for making a film about a recent corruption scandal, something sorely lacking in a country besieged by them, writers Molaioli, Ludovica Rampoldi and Gabriele Romagnoli render their characters strangely sympathetic. And spend too much time on financial particulars better suited to a documentary exposé.

Under Molaioli’s direction, the film lumbers where it should spark indignation. A subplot on the sterile affair between Botta and Rastelli’s niece Laura (Sarah Felberbaum), fresh out of economics school and unwilling to tow the company line, feels out of place. Extraneous sequences, such as Rastelli’s visits to a church and a sauna in Russia, also add little to the story.

Fausto Maria Sciarappa and Lino Guanciale are quite good as Leda executives and Servillo is, naturally, great. He’s perfected the shady, steely-eyed loner, but it’s getting sad to see such a consummate actor playing the same role over and over again. (Most recently, in Gorbaciof and The Quiet Life, both released in Italy last fall.)

The technical credits in Il Gioiellino are superb. It’s hard to believe production designer Alessandra Mura (who worked on the director’s feature debut The Girl by the Lake) has only a few credits to her name. Her team’s work on the Leda logo and products is outstanding, as is the design of the company’s majestic offices.

Veteran director of photography Luca Bigazzi (Romanzo Criminale) shoots interiors in warm, yellow light, which nicely plays up the industrially regal but suffocating atmosphere. There’s also a great score here, of raunchy guitar tracks and even Abba, but it further underscores the overly drawn out proceedings onscreen.

Production companies: Indigo Film, Babe Film (France), in collaboration with RAI Cinema, BIM Distribuzione, Canal Plus and Cinecinema
Cast: Toni Servillo, Remo Girone, Sarah Felberbaum, Fausto Maria Sciarappa, Lino Guanciale, Vanessa Compagnucci, Igor Chernevich, Jay O. Sanders
Director: Andrea Molaioli
Screenwriters: Andrea Molaioli, Ludovica Rampoldi, Gabriele Romagnoli
Producers: Francesca Cima, Nicola Giuliano
Co-producer: Fabio Conversi
Director of photography: Luca Bigazzi
Production designer: Alessandra Mura
Music: Teho Teardo
Costume designer: Rossano Marchi, Gabriella Pescucci
Editor: Giogio Franchini
No rating, 104 minutes