Friday, April 22, 2011

Tribeca ’11: A Quiet Life

Films like Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah and Abel Ferrara’s Napoli Napoli Napoli will give you a pretty good idea why Rosario Russo left Naples. Frankly, the former gangster was part of the problem, but a spot of bother with his former colleagues prompted him to fake his death and abandon his family. Resettled as a provincial German inn-keeper, Rosario’s past catches up with him in Claudio Cupellini’s A Quiet Life (trailer here), which screens during the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.

Russo is still a crack shot, but now he only kills wild game for his kitchen. He bickers with everyone, yet he enjoys his simple country life. However, when two Italian punks turn up asking for a room, Russo looks as if someone just walked over his grave. In a way, that is not far from the truth. Obviously the brains of the twosome, Diego also shares some significant history with Russo that most viewers will quickly assume, but is not formally revealed until about the film’s midway point. In contrast, his partner Edoardo is pretty much a numbskull, but he has surprising success putting the moves on Russo’s pretty waitress Doris.

Though Russo welcomes the opportunity to get reacquainted with Diego, his presence is a destabilizing influence in the household. Marking time much like the characters in Hemingway’s short story “The Killers,” Diego and Edoardo represent a constant threat of violence, which Russo recognizes only too well, yet cannot explain to his suspicious German wife Renate.

Much like his character, Russo, lead actor Toni Servillo has a chameleon-like ability to radically alter his look and mannerisms from film to film. Nothing like his tour-de-force performance as the stiffly sinister Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti in Il Divo, Servillo projects both virility and a sense of resignation as the haunted hotelier. Rather than cardboard cutout villains, Diego and Edoardo are multidimensional characters as well, rendered with nuance by Marco D’Amore and Francesco Di Leva, respectively.

While Cupellini’s pacing is more patient than breakneck, he keeps the tension cranked up quite effectively. Clearly, he is more interested in character exploration than genre thrills, but he never abandons the film’s thriller structure. An oddly meditative crime drama, Quiet is a pleasant surprise at this year’s Tribeca, well worth checking out when it screens today (4/22), tomorrow (4/23), and Sunday (4/24).