|Remember Me, My Love
aka Ricordati di Me
Italian language. Italy, 2003. Not rated. 125 minutes.
Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Laura Morante, Monica Bellucci, Silvio Muccino, Nicoletta Romanoff, Gabriele Lavia, Enrico Silvestrin, Silvia Coen, Alberto Gimignani, Stefano Santospago, Amanda Sandrelli, Pietro Taricone, Giulia Michelini
|Grade: A-||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
Read the AboutFilm feature profile and interview with director Gabriele Muccino.
hold Giuseppe Tornatore responsible for a lot of damage to Italian cinema. Yes, his excellent Cinema Paradiso (1989) single-handedly revived the international profile of a national film industry largely ignored since the age of Fellini. Unfortunately, it also ushered in a era of schmaltzy, bittersweet Italian melodramedies, characterized by such films as Mediterraneo, Il Postino, and Tornatore's own Malena, which introduced the United States to Monica Bellucci (boy did it ever). Meanwhile filmmakers like neo-realist Gianni Amelio (Stolen Children, Lamerica) and satirist Nanni Moretti (Dear Diary, The Son's Room) have gone unnoticed in the United States, where distributors continue to prefer to market Italian films about wacky people in beautiful locales—preferably remote, idyllic ones forgotten by the modern world. In 1998, Miramax finally distributed an alternative. Unfortunately, it involved Roberto Benigni, purveyor of his own brand of wacky behavior and schmaltz.
Gabriele Muccino is out to change all that. Determined to make contemporary films about contemporary people, he exported The Last Kiss to the United States in 2002, a somewhat overbearing film that attempted to deal with the misgivings of a group of men faced with growing up and settling down. Now he offers us Remember Me, My Love, a much more sophisticated film (despite the schmaltz-suggestive title) that delves into the complex malaise experienced by an apparently stable middle-class family, which comes unglued.
Remember Me, My Love takes place in Rome, but Muccino does not want you to know that. You won't find any Coliseum, Spanish Steps, or Trevi Fountain in this film. Muccino shows us the Italy Italians live in, not the Italy tourists visit. However, in one of Muccino's few questionable decisions, he attempts to emphasize the universal qualities of his story and themes via ironic storybook-style voiceover that introduces us to middle-aged Carlo (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) and Giulia (Laura Morante), their daughter Valentina (newcomer Nicoletta Romanoff) and their son Paolo (Silvio Muccino, the director's much-younger brother). Though still in high school (the Italian liceo lasts five years as opposed to four), both children are in their late teens and almost adults. Almost.
Fabrizio Bentivoglio and Monica Bellucci in Remember Me, My Love.
Disconnected from the world in which they live, these family members don't know each other very well, we are told. Paolo, the voiceover intones, comes to the realization that if he didn't exist, it would make no difference to anyone he considers a friend. “I don't want to live my life needlessly like everyone around me,” he complains. These observations are too on-the-nose for the film's good, but fortunately Muccino gets away from this kind of thing. We see the characters' disaffection soon enough, without the verbal cues.
In the morning, Carlo brings Ovaltine to Paolo in bed, who petulantly complains he's not a kid anymore. At work, Carlo's boss berates him for only closing seven contracts in three months. He soon runs into an old flame, Alessia (Monica Bellucci), at a party. “Happy husband?” she queries. “Husband,” he replies flatly. Alessia irresistibly draws Carlo, and reawakens his desire to finish his long-abandoned novel. Paolo, meanwhile, nurses a puppy-dog crush on schoolmate Ilaria (Giulia Michelini), who rejects him because she has no patience for his inferiority complex. Narcissistic Valentina decides to do whatever it takes to make it as a scantily-clad presenter on one of those popular cheeseball variety shows that dominate prime-time airwaves in Italy. Her efforts rekindle Giulia's own acting bug, and she's soon rehearsing in secret for a local play, also about a couple in trouble.
These characters are all obsessed with proving they're worth something. They seek external sources of self-esteem, instead of looking for it from within. Even affairs, for Muccino, are not so much about failures of character or judgement, but about the unquenchable and universal thirst for validation. In creating these people, Muccino gets so many things right that it's easy to forgive the script's more obvious bits of manipulation. They take one another for granted. They lack just the right amount of self awareness, they are hurtful with just the right amount of obliviousness, and they behave with just the right amount of compulsivity. Characters who have had affairs berate other characters for having them, but the irony is lost on them. Giulia dismisses Carlo's novel as too autobiographical; Carlo dismisses Giulia's acting talent. When Carlo tries to leave his job and his family, Valentina has a sudden reality check—but her concerns are still selfish. Later, Valentina humiliates herself by asking jealous-girlfriend questions to which she already knows the answers. Through it all, alarm clocks appear as a recurring motif, entreating them to wake up, already!
Remember Me, My Love excels in its details, but most of them are so casually and matter-of-factly included that you might miss them if you're not paying attention. One of Carlo's friends is a politician, for example, who turns out to be just another asshole in an SUV who doesn't bother stopping when he dents a car in a parking garage. Valentina sleeps next to a colossal mirror. At her audition, she can't carry a tune, while her friend attracts the judges' notice—until they get a look at her butt. Once Giulia decides to try acting again, she's the one frantically asking her daughter how she looks, showing how Valentina's concern with appearances got passed down. Muccino avoids overemphasizing these well-conceived minutiae, however, because they are all part of his characters' normal fabric of life.
Remember Me, My Love is well acted all around, but Muccino is proving to be an especially wonderful director of women. Giovanna Mezzogiorno and longtime Italian star Stefania Sandrelli were the reason to watch The Last Kiss, not the grating men. Here, Morante, delivers a multifaceted, subtly powerful Oscar-worthy performance (not that Oscar will notice), while Bellucci continues to develop into a competent actor (see also The Passion of the Christ and Irreversible), demonstrating she can be more than just set decoration. Young Romanoff also makes an impressive debut—being a model, she is perfect for the part, but she can act, too (unless she is just playing herself). Bentivoglio's Carlo is the lynchpin though, and Bentivoglio ably carries the role, making him sympathetic despite—or perhaps because of—his realistic foibles and weaknesses.
In many marriages, the passion eventually fades, yielding to petty grievances, career obligations, and domestic responsibilities—not just the passion for one another, but for life itself. Is it gone, or just dormant? In Remember Me, My Love, Muccino goes looking for that passion, and eventually finds it. Will Carlo and his family live happily ever after? Things may turn out that way, it seems, as the film approaches its conclusion, but with his powerful closing shot—as good a one as I've ever seen in a drama about family—Muccino has a more complicated answer in mind, one that more accurately reflects the humanity he wants to depict. We can only hope that U.S. audiences will be drawn to an Italian film not set in Tuscany, Venice, or some island, and go see what Muccino has to say.
© July 2004 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2004 Roadside Attractions. All Rights Reserved.
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