Antonio Pane’s name means bread. Someone ought to introduce him to Ms. Acqua. They would be the perfect couple to represent Italy during the financial crisis—but isn’t Italy always in a state of economic crisis? And if a man’s self-worth comes through his work, what does that mean for Pane? He is a fill-in rather than a temp, subbing for workers who must briefly be away from their gigs. It is not the companies that pay him. His off-the-books agent-dispatcher is not so good about remunerating either. Still, maybe just maybe, he gets some satisfaction out of seeing the world from other vantage points in Gianni Amelio’s Intrepido: a Lonely Hero (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
Initially, Intrepido resembles the comedy Jerry Lewis never made (or maybe he did, remember Hardly Working?). Big-hearted Pane walks wide-eyed through a number of gigs, like construction work, pizza delivery, and tram driving, never missing an opportunity for physical comedy that might arise. Ironically, he is partially supported by his son Ivo, a tenor player in music school, whose studies are underwritten by his mother, Pane’s well-to-do ex.
However, Intrepido develops a strange and awkward case of Jekyll & Hyde syndrome, alternating between Pane’s gentle workplace buffoonery and some seriously downer subplots. It really starts when Pane platonically befriends an emotionally disturbed fellow job-seeker, who has been disowned by her parents. He also must contend with Ivo’s crises of artistic confidence and his own attack of conscience when he realized a recent gig inadvertently entailed delivery a pre-teen boy to a pedophile. Yes, in Milan the laughter never stops.
It could well be the tonal shifts of Intrepido reflect something in Italian aesthetic taste that is lost in the translation. On the plus side, Ivo’s group plays a starkly evocative arrangement of “Nature Boy,” featuring Italian tenors Pasquale Laino and Mario Raja that sounds amazing. Eden Ahbez’s proto-New Age standard often lends itself to perilously maudlin interpretations, but it perfectly fits its place in the film.
As Pane, Antonio Albanese oozes everyman compassion and exquisitely painful dignity from every pore. Shrewdly, Albanese makes good use of silence, because if Pane were a talker we would probably have to kill him. Instead, even cynical Berlusconi-voting materialists will find the sad hound dog likable and worthy of their rooting interest.