When the Night (Quando la notte): Venice Film Review

Venice Film Festival
A troubled young mother and a rough mountaineer’s love story is unconvincing from the start.

Cristina Comencini’s drama traces the hesitant romance between a young mother and a rough-hewn mountaineer she meets on vacation in the Alps.

Glossy filmmaking is unconvincing from start to finish in Cristina Comencini’s When the Night, which traces the hesitant romance between a young mother failing to cope and a rough-hewn mountaineer she meets on vacation in the Alps. Family drama gone flat is not the best recipe for Venice competition and the film’s overblown passions elicited more titters than sympathy from the critics, suggesting that the audience for this old-fashioned woman’s picture won’t stray far from local fans of Italian TV star Claudia Pandolfi.

Perhaps hoping to repeat the success of her 2005 incest drama Don’t Tell, which earned a foreign language Oscar nomination, Comencini bases the story on her own novel about a family that isn’t as flawlessly normal and happy as it first appears. The dark secret here is the protag’s ambiguous feelings about her two-year-old son and her difficulty living up to the impossible role of being the perfect mother.

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The first part of the film is a simple dramatization of the trials of motherhood, which most women can easily identify with. Arriving in a terribly scenic Alpine village over which magnificent Monte Rosa towers, Marina (Pandolfi) discovers the house she’s rented is outside of town and her only neighbour is the misanthropic Manfred (Filippo Timi), a gruff mountain guide. She and little Marco (played by triplets) are to spend three weeks in the mountains until her husband can get away and join them.

To pass the time Marina attempts to interact with the villagers, who are in full tourist season, and her constantly wailing son. His crying keeps her awake at night (Manfred too), until she begins to exhibit the woozy effects of sleep deprivation heading into a nervous breakdown. One night, hearing a thud followed by an unnatural silence, Manfred guesses something bad has happened and breaks the door down to find Marco unconscious and bleeding, and his mother catatonic in the next room.

The screenplay walks with leaden shoes and cheap psychology from here on in. The little boy quickly recovers from the accident, but Manfred can’t rid himself of the suspicion that Marina has deliberately hurt him. (The truth will be unnecessarily revealed in a flashback much later on.) To keep an eye on her, he walks them up the beautiful steep mountainside full of rocks and ridges and bubbling streams to his brothers’ lodge, where more drama awaits them.

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The attractive Pandolfi is light-weight though sympathetic in the central role of the lonely wife forced to dance alone and provide round-the-clock care-giving to Marco, a nerve-wracking crying machine never given a personality. (This might be a scripting choice, since Marina unconsciously persists in talking about her son as “the child” instead of by name.)

Known for his meaty Mussolini role in Marco Bellocchio’s Vincere, Filippo Timi is at a loss to flesh out the psychologically scarred Manfred, whose own mother abandoned the family when he was a child, and whose wife packed up and left with the kids some time ago. Ergo his life-long suspicion that women are dangerous and untrustworthy; ergo his permanently knit brows. It’s a major disappointment that such a fine actor is never unleashed to salvage the film.

In the final sequences, the growing attraction between Manfred and Marina becomes explicit but not convincing, and their more intimate scenes topple over from the weight of cliché. Their unspoken adulterous feelings are so patently false they would best have remained buried.

Tech credits are professional but rather characterless, missing a great opportunity to deepen the story with the impressive mountain location, just begging to become a symbol of something.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 7, 2011.
Production company: Cattleya in association with Rai Cinema
Cast: Claudia Pandolfi, Filippo Timi, Thomas Trabacchi, Denis Fasolo, Michela Cescon, Manuela Mandracchia, Franco Trevisi
Director: Cristina Comencini
Screenwriters: Cristina Comencini, Doriana Leondeff, based on Comencini’s novel
Executive producer: Gina Gardini
Producers: Riccardo Tozzi, Giovanni Stabilini, Marco Chimenz
Director of photography: Italo Petriccione
Production designer: Giancarlo Basili
Music: Andrea Farri
Costumes: Francesca Livia Sartori
Editor: Francesca Calvelli
Sales Agent: Celluloid Dreams
No rating, 109 minutes.