Monday, December 01, 2008

Ozpetek at MoMA: A Perfect Day

Films told in flashback necessarily lose an element of suspense. In Ferzan Ozpetek’s A Perfect Day, when shots fired bring the police to the apartment of one of their own, we know something terrible has happened inside—the only question is the extent of the horror that transpired. Perfect (Italian trailer here) makes its American debut this Friday at the MoMA as part of a retrospective series focusing on the Turkish born Italian filmmaker.

Ozpetek’s films frequently involve unexpected tragedy and the consolation of humane compassion. However, in Perfect, the former greatly overwhelms the latter. When the world-weary Emma dubs her day “perfect,” she speaks with conscious irony. She has already been fired from her dead-end job and endured a harrowing encounter with Antonio, her police officer ex-husband, but she still does not know the half of what she will suffer by the end of the day.

In general, there is not a lot of joy to go around for Ozpetek’s large cast of characters. The unstable Antonio is repulsed by his continuing obsession with Emma, whom he derides as an aging bimbo, and wracked with guilt for neglecting his family. He is assigned to the protection detail of Elio Fioravanti, a crooked politician who stands to lose his immunity if defeated in an upcoming election, which seems increasingly likely. His trophy wife Maja still harbors affection for Fioravanti’s grown prodigal son, but has opted for what she assumed would be the security offered by his father. Only Emma and Angelo’s cruelly bespectacled little boy and Maja and Fioravanti’s popular young daughter display anything approaching healthy, unconditional love.

Despite the film’s constant undercurrent of dread and menace, Oztepek directs with admirable sensitivity, while still maintaining his trademark visual flair. He inspires fearless performances from Valerio Mastandrea as Angelo and Isabella Ferrari as Emma, a role which won her best actress honors at the Venice Film Festival. Yet throughout the film, the only source of suspense is just how bad things will get. And what happens is awful—probably exactly what you already suspect.

Ozpetek does not play games with the narrative, employing a conventional flashback as his framing device. As a result, Perfect is emotionally direct and completely accessible. However, its unrelenting pessimism and mounting sense of inevitable tragedy will probably limit the film’s appeal. Beautifully filmed by Ozpetek and cinematographer Fabio Zamarian, with a soundtrack by Andrea Guerra that gives an almost operatic feeling to the on-screen drama, Perfect is a finely crafted film, but also uncompromisingly depressing. It is an easy film to respect, but a hard film to love.

The Ozpetek retrospective starts at MoMA on Thursday the 4th, with His Secret Life. Perfect then plays on Friday the 5th and Saturday the 13th, with the director and Ferrari in attendance for the first screening.