Turin at the end of the fifties: two brothers have emigrated there from Sicily and the older works very hard to let the younger study and free himself from poverty through culture. The boy ... See full summary »
Enrico Lo Verso,
"Prepare yourself for suffering if you intend to be close to him." So speaks the mother of a young woman with severe disabilities, speaking to Gianni, the father of 16-year-old Paolo, himself developmentally disabled. Gianni abandoned the boy at birth, when the child's mother died, and Paulo's aunt and uncle have raised him. They have contacted Gianni and asked him to take Paulo to Berlin for a battery of medical tests. Images of people walking, running, skating, and dancing dot the screen as Gianni and Paulo get to know each other. Over a few days, Gianni tries to sort out his obligations and his desires. Will he accept his role as father to this engaging, mercurial, disabled youth? Written by
Director Gianni Amelio coaxed a wonderful performance from Andrea Rossi in this film - his lines were fed to him by the director, allowing this young non-actor to appear spontaneous. His charm and his stubbornness were powerful and endearing, and it would seem that it was the boy's real character and personality that were being very gently and cleverly allowed to shine.
Apart from Andrea Rossi, the strength of the film lay with Charlotte Rampling - although her part was a supporting role, her intelligence and dignity made a strong impact, and you wished that she would be there to counsel and guide Gianni through future events that he would perhaps not handle too well. She has matured into a very fine actress indeed, and one hopes that she will get the kind of roles she deserves in the future.
My first thought was that Kim Rossi-Stuart wasn't a good choice for the lead - good-looking certainly, but way too wooden an actor to carry a role as demanding as that of Gianni. On reflection, however, I wondered if casting an actor who appeared to have very little to give his role emotionally was deliberate, because it wasn't hard to believe that this was a man who deserted his son at his birth. Even when he slowly began to warm to his son, and we knew he desperately wanted to help, he was still awkward as he tried to compensate for his instinctive emotional detachment.
When he took his son from the hospital - clearly before his round of treatment was completed (this would certainly have to be an ongoing routine for Paolo) - this was not the action of a responsible, loving father but an act of rebellion from an immature man who couldn't, or wouldn't, see that the painful procedures were the only hope for some small improvement in Paolo's condition, and something that the boy himself accepted and participated in, however much he hated it.
Taking Paolo to Norway to visit his "girlfriend" Kristine was not an act of kindness, but one of insensitivity - in earlier scenes, although Paolo spoke of one day marrying her, he also had all sorts of excuses for not being able to meet her. Clearly, he was able to understand what his father could not - that she may reject him when she realised that he was not like other boys; yet he trusted his father enough to take the chance. It was when Gianni threw away his walking stick that I felt he had made very little progress from the boy who couldn't face up to his responsibilities to his motherless son - he was acting less from a desire to help Paolo walk on his own than he was trying to pretend that the boy's disabilities could be cured by an act of will and that he would one day be more like a "normal" son. This was explored further during the driving scene - having told Nicole earlier that Paolo didn't know how to construct boundaries, he encouraged him to think that he could drive and was then shattered when he realised the extent to which his son could at times fail to recognise the limitations that would always confront him. Was Paolo himself unconsciously trying to teach his father a lesson by behaving in the same irresponsible way that Gianni had been?
The ending of the film therefore presented us with two possibilities - Gianni's newly-awakened love might lead him to a new sense of maturity and responsibility if he could accept that love was not going to be a miracle cure, or he just might once again abandon his child to others. For Paolo's sake and his father's too, I'd like to think that Gianni would have developed a new perspective on his physical and emotional journey with his difficult and beautiful son.
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