The Third Half (Il Terzo Tempo): Venice Review

"The Third Half"
An efficient mix of social drama and inspiring sports story set in the Italian rugby world.

Enrico Maria Artale's mix of social drama and inspirational sports movie stars Stefano Cassetti and newcomer Lorenzo Richelmy.

VENICE, Italy -- A social worker who used to be a rugby champion pushes a young charge just released from juvie to try his luck at the game in The Third Half, an efficient mix of social drama and inspiring sports story from Italian director Enrico Maria Artale.

Though originality is somewhat in short supply in the story department, lived-in performances from Stefanno Cassetti and impressive newcomer Lorenzo Richelmy make the material come fully alive, while a punchy score and great camerawork further imbue the proceedings with energy and verve. With the right marketing, this small film could be a sleeper hit on home turf, while further afield, especially broadcasters and festivals not afraid of more mainstream fare should take note. Remake rights could also be of interest.

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Vincenzo (Cassetti) is assigned by a judge (Franco Ravera) to look after Samuel (Richelmy), who’s been given a temporary place to live and a job at a farm after a stint at a juvenile detention center. A broad-shouldered guy with a killer smile than can become a bully’s grimace in a split second, Samuel is practically on the brink of adulthood and Vincenzo repeatedly warns him that if he commits any mistake during his probation period, he won’t be sent back to juvie but will be locked up with the big heavies instead.

But Samuel isn’t the only one with troubles: Vincenzo used to be a star rugby player and now finds himself a trainer of the same team, which plays at the bottom of their league, and in order to relive past glories and forget current hardships, he often hits the bottle. The two men don’t initially like each other much but this gradually -- surprise! -- changes when Vincenzo introduces Samuel to the sport and, not much later, the team (something he technically can’t do because of his charge’s status).

Though many of the beats of the screenplay, written by the director, Luca Giordano and Francesco Cenni, are familiar, the actors imbue their coincidentally very dissimilar characters -- both have to contain their fury or frenzy at times, even though they share a common decency and a desire to be good (or better) -- with enough complexity and humanity to suggest why they sometimes go down the wrong path to get to the right outcome. “Rugby’s all about self-control,” explains Vincenzo, which is clearly something they should take to heart off the field as well.

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Thankfully, key supporting characters, such as Vincenzo’s punky daughter, Flavia (Margherita Laterza), who’s destined to become a love interest for Samuel from the moment she appears, are also given enough space to develop into individuals, with the couple’s first, extremely awkward encounter actually a chuckle-inducing highlight that's also insightful in terms of character.

Cinematography by Francesco di Giacomo impressively manages to present a visually coherent package while allowing room for a different way to shoot each of the rugby matches, resulting in an energetic and never repetitive style that drives the action forward. Something similar can be said of Ronin’s score, which occasionally suggests emotions but is mainly concerned with propulsive rhythms that suggest movement.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Horizons)

Production companies: FilmAuro, Centro sperimentale di cinematografia
Cast: Stefano Cassetti, Stefania Rocca, Lorenzo Richelmy, Edoardo Pesce, Margherita Laterza, Franco Ravera Pier Giorgio Bellocchio   
Director: Enrico Maria Artale
Screenwriters: Enrico Maria Artale, Luca Giordano, Francesco Cenni
Producers: Aurelio de Laurentiis, Luigi de Laurentiis
Executive producer: Elisabetta Bruscolini
Director of photography: Francesco di Giacomo
Production designer: Laura Boni
Music: Ronin
Costume designer: Irene Amantini
Editor: Paolo Landolfi
No rating, 95 minutes.