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A young Italian, living in Paris with his French wife, is about to become a father. Before the baby is born, Alberto must repay his father for every expense from his own birth until he left home. It's a family tradition, virtually a family curse. With little money in hand, he jumps on a train to Italy, the "Alberto Express," to return to his father. During the journey, he tries scheme after scheme to secure a windfall. En route, he also has a magical encounter with generations of his paternal ancestors, each of them adding again and again the sums owed them by their sons. Written by
At a 21st years ago I cringed as a Greek father embarrassed his daughter and all of her friends by speculating on how much she had cost him and whether it had been worth it. In 'Alberto Express' generations of Italian fathers give their sons a sum of expenses which must be recompensed before the young man, in his turn, becomes a father. As a young lad leaving home for the first time, the hapless Alberto receives the pile of crumpled receipts which he must repay, with a sense of deepening dismay. On the eve of the birth of his first child he has a dream. He must, in this night, take a train from Paris to Rome and return to his father the sum of money which is owed. Unfortunately he doesn't have it.
In that state between sleeping and waking, which Joffé seems to inhabit with such ease, Alberto comes to confront his own mortality. This of course, according to the ticket inspector, an old but newly found friend, is not really such a big deal. After all, everybody has to do it sooner or later. An indisputable fact which does not, however, make it any easier.
The Alberto express whirls on through the night, accelerating in accord with Alberto's desperation. A host of characters flashes across the screen as if glimpsed in passing through the train's speeding windows. Whimsical, comic and curious, like all of Joffé's characters, they give one the impression of being in the centre of their own stories. They are beautifully cast and a joy to watch. Sergio Castellitto plays Alberto as an almost Candide like character, a questing innocent abroad in an unfamiliar world. That world has its share of memorable moments. Jeanne Moreau contributes a mysterious cameo that illustrates how even the greatest of empires fall or are transformed. A tank full of lobsters is released into a lake. Alberto 'liberates' people from their belongings. His ancestors dispute happily about their dues. It is an impermanent world.
In 'Alberto Express' Joffé has managed to convey a feeling of the elusive nature of time, not only in his subject matter, but in its depiction. The feeling of unreality which sets one adrift when traveling at night aptly creates a landscape for Alberto's shifting world. The film, like 'Que la lumière soit' has a Chagall like quality. I had that feeling when rewatching 'Que la lumière soit' recently. Then I found out that 'Alberto Express' is apparently the first of a trilogy which Joffé dedicated to his father and that his father was Russian and Jewish.
Oddly enough, all three films have been dubbed as amongst the best French films that nobody's ever seen. Perhaps somebody will remedy that by putting them out on DVD with English subtitles. It doesn't seem much to ask especially when one considers how much dross is out there.
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