Monday, April 15, 2013

Day In, Day Out

The traveling Italian Film Festival rolled into my fair city this weekend. Our version of the event consists of four films over one weekend. The showings are free, which is a good price for a movie. Last year's event filled up and turned people away. This year, the organizers used the bigger auditorium at our local arthouse instead of the small one. This festival is dedicated to bringing recent Italian movies to an American audience who otherwise might not see these films, contemporary distribution models being what they are.

The opening film of this year's edition was One Day More (Il giorno in più 2011, directed by Massimo Venier), a romantic comedy like the ones that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan used to make in the 1990s. Parts of it are even set in Nora Ephron's version of New York. This isn't a criticism. Not really. Indeed, this is a kind of movie that I need right now, so going in blind and having it scratch an itch I didn't realize was bothering me is an unlooked-for serendipity.

The story follows Giacomo, a lady-killing child-man who has just come out of another relationship with which his heart really wasn't engaged. She accuses him of being more interested in his bowl of cereal than in him, which is unfortunately true. Giacomo works in finance. He's good at his job, but because he's unpartnered, he tends to be the convenient fall guy for all the extra work that comes around. He's tired of this, so he invents a partner out of the woman he sees on the tram every morning. He constructs an elaborate identity for this woman (who he names Agnese), but soon is pressured to actually produce her for a company event. Coincidentally, the woman on the tram has had an eye on him, too, and just as he needs a real person to inhabit the role he's created, she asks him to coffee. Her name is Michela (rather than Agnese). They have a splendid day together, but it comes to an abrupt end when she expresses her hatred of love stories, which all end badly (and are thus true) or that end happily (and are thus, lies). Giacomo, for his part, is deeply smitten with her. Her motive for approaching him are less convoluted: she's leaving for a job in New York and wanted to meat the man who was eyeing her on the tram every day and explain where she was going before she vanished. And go she does. Giacomo is heartbroken. The hunt for easy sex partners holds no more thrill for him. When he accepts a job in Argentina, he contrives to miss his connection in the US so he can go find Michela in New York. They have four days to enact the entire arc of a relationship: infatuation, recrimination, acceptance. They use as a guidebook the book that Michela has guided to publication at her new firm. Unfortunately, Michela's boss, Tom, returns from Chicago a day early and they don't get to enact the final part of their relationship. Giacomo returns to his life and to Milan, still owed one more day. When he eventually returns to New York to collect, he finds that Michela has moved once again, to Chicago this time, but she has left her stuff in the New York apartment. He leaves her a note in their guidebook, detailing a date and a place where she can meet him. Will it get to her, especially once the book gets thrown in the stuff headed for the dump? This movie is a fairy tale, so what do you think?

One Day More is a film that lives and dies on the charm of its leads. Fortunately, both Fabio Volo and Isabella Ragonese are sexy and appealing. They hold the screen even as the vehicle they are driving jumps off the rails at the end. Volo is the kind of arrested adolescent lately typical of Judd Apatow movies, while Ragonese is stuck with the manic pixie dream girl role, who inadvertently guides her leading man into an adult awareness of love and romance. The two of them have an on-screen chemistry that makes the jokes work and hooks the audience. This is good, because, structurally, this is a mess.

This is stitched together from three distinct plots. The three plots don't mesh very well, which creates a kind of shambolic narrative and which leaves strange lacunae littered throughout the film. Why, for instance, does Giacomo's best friend, Silvia, put up with him? She's obviously in love with him and in another movie, he would stumble across her after chasing an impossible relationship, realizing what he had all along. This would be no more of a cliche than the ending we actually get, which is lifted whole from Sleepless in Seattle (and by proxy from An Affair to Remember), complete with New York setting. The film elides a connection between Silvia and Giacomo's other friend, Dante, the awkward co-worker, but drops the whole thing in the end without elaboration. This is all at the fringes of the film, though. A more central problem is the conceit of the four day relationship. It would seem, based on the title of the film, that this is main plot, but in order to get to this narrative, the film has to run through a gauntlet of exposition in addition to another unrelated plot (the fictional girlfriend ploy). By the time we get to the first day (announced in cute little animated chapter stops), more than an hour of film has elapsed. This results in a surprising compression of this section of the film. The end of the film just reeks of a deus ex machina, required because of an obstacle the screenwriters have needlessly placed in the road to the ending. I did a serious eye roll when Giacomo's letter got blown out of the book and floated to the one person who might be interested enough to deliver it. It puts a hard strain on the film's credibility.

That all said, I had a pretty good time at this film. It manages laughs when it want them (no small thing) and the comedy isn't generally cruel or snide. This is a sweet movie at its core, and I was in the right frame of mind to respond to that while I was watching it. It's a slick movie, too, full of attractive locations and beautiful people. A fantasy? Sure. The same kind of fantasy that Americans make about affluent young people falling in love without worrying about money or lodgings. There's even a salting of drama when Giacomo's mother calls him to the bedside of her partner, who Giacomo has previously dismissed. It's like he's getting a comeuppance, but not a harsh one. Unlike an American film, though, we see some hints of the discontents of Berlusconi's Italy in how Giacomo treats Dante and in where Dante eventually ends up. Dante is a character who should be pursuing a career in science, but is instead chasing after a career to which he's unsuited in finance. Money equals success, not job satisfaction. But these are minor pinpricks intended to move Giacomo along from innocence to experience rather than any kind of social commentary. I don't mind, really. If I want existential angst, I can get it wholesale from the world around me.

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