Monday, 2 July 2007

L'Amico Di Famiglia (2006) - Paolo Sorrentino



In Family Friend, a wonderful recent Italian film Giacomo Rizzo plays Geremia De Geremei. Geremia is an old man, a tailor with a rather repulsive appearance who lives in a run-down apartment with his ageing sickly mother. He seems nice - people come to him for advice, money help and lots of people seem to like him. The poor old guy couldn't harm a fly, the moment you see him you want to put your arm round the quaint old fella and tell him everything is going to be alright (though you'd have to say it in Italian as he doesn't speak English). This impression lasts for about 15 minutes or so, maybe less, before it's revealed he's a lone shark who charges 100% interest on all monies lent. But what can and old man like this do if someone doesn't pay? Well he employs some rather burly twins to get the money, or something of equal value out of his customers. He's "a friend of the family" to everyone because no one wants to admit who he really is to others, or that they need his help. The film itself revolves largely around a father who can't afford his daughter's wedding, so he goes to Geremia to get the money for the wedding. Soon after the money has been lent, Geremia gets an offer from a businessman who needs a million Euros (that means 2 million repaid to Geremia - enough to set him up for life). Between the businessman, Geremia, the father and the gorgeous bride-to-be who will do anything to lower her father's repayments things get messy very quickly for all involved; all the while Geremia's one true friend in the world - a man with a penchant for line dancing and country music with a dream of moving to the US, offers him a friendly shoulder to rest on and some sound advice.



This wonderfully shot film, captured largely in dark orange tones that bring a sense of Mediterranean warmth with a suspicious edge to the frame, seems to be all about friendship, and what constitutes "real" friendship. Geremia has lots of 'friends', but like the dealer in Patrice Leconte's My Best Friend they are only in actuality business acquaintances. People respect Geremia because they fear him, and no matter how nice he tries to be to them they will always resent hi and the power he holds over them - even if he will never understand this because of his delusion that he is liked by these people. Why he doesn't seem to spend any of the money he makes (he keeps it all in a safety deposit box), and whether he was a loner before he was a lone shark aren't fully explained. It seems to be down to a very conservative, prudent outlook on life as well as his domineering mother who rules his life from her bed and his absent father who brought him up to be a lone shark. His only real friend might not be his country music-loving accomplice, but 'The Pirate' - a competing loan shark who may or may not exist, but in Geremia's world he certainly exists, and is probably the only person who can truly understand Geremia's situation.



The acting is as wonderful as the cinematography, Giacomo Rizzo is perfect in the lead while Laura Chiatti exudes sultry European sex appeal from every pore of her skin (even when her dancing leaves a little to be desired we still [i]want[/i] her as much as Geremia does). The editing of the music, the production design... it all comes together cleanly and crisply to elucidate a very unique vision of a seedier side to contemporary Italian existence outside of the major cities. In the end not all is answered, though nor should it be for this film - as it stands - is [i]very[/i] good and in the first 30 minutes or so, touches on genuine greatness where it an irresistible sense of power is attained. Let down only slightly by the con story that comes to the fore in the film's ending, the emotional complexity involved in trying to de-construct the film's protagonists is something not seen that often in cinema these days. Sorrentino refuses to paint a landscape of good guys and bad guys, he refuses to explain why nice people do bad things and he refuses (for the most-part) to give into stereotype and cliché (there is one wonderful scene in which we think Geremia is going to sexually assault a client, before it turns out that is not what he is after at all). A brilliant theatrical experience; a film i will probably try to revisit when it comes out on dvd.

7 leaning towards 8/10

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