"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
LE CHIAVI DI CASA (THE KEYS TO THE HOUSE) is a brave, humble, simple, eloquent work of art. Director and writer (with Sandro Petraglia) Gianni Amelio has the courage to address a subject that is difficult for most viewers and has created one of the more tender love stories on film. Aided by an incomparably fine cast and a fine cinematographer (Luca Bigazzi) and composer (Franco Piersanti), he has found a means to touch everyone with a story that, BECAUSE of its subject matter, gives more insight into the human condition than almost any other film to date.
Amelio begins his story quietly and progresses slowly, allowing the viewer to cope with the realities of the tale in a manner of comfort. In the opening scene Gianni (Kim Rossi Stuart) is meeting with Alberto (Pierfrancesco Favino) in a frank discussion about the status of Paolo (Andrea Rossi), the son of Gianni whom he has never seen, the child being born as his girlfriend dies in childbirth. Alberto and his wife have been caring for Paolo for fifteen years, loving him, admiring him, working with the fact that Paolo has cerebral palsy with he concomitant handicaps of distorted limbs but with a mind and heart completely normal. Paolo's doctor has informed Alberto that perhaps having Paolo connect with his birth father may aid his progress in walking normally and increasing his self-care. So at this meeting Alberto, regrettably, turns Paolo over to the hesitant Gianni, an appliances worker who is now married and has a new child.
Gianni and Paolo meet for the first time, board a train to Berlin for the best Children's Orthopedic Hospital available. Very gradually the two begin to learn about each other; Paolo wants to prove he is self-reliant, Gianni wants to prove he is an adequate caregiver. In Berlin Gianni observes Paolo's intensive physical training, finding the boy's strengths and qualities and need for love. While Paolo is hospitalized Gianni meets Nicole (the brilliant Charlotte Rampling) whose 20-year-old daughter Nadine (Alla Faerovich) is severely physically challenged: Nicole has devoted her life to being at the bedside of Nadine and shares with Gianni the truths about parenting challenged children. Their conversations are sage and realistic and enormously touching.
Gianni and Paolo begin to bond, to share their lives, to explain the fifteen year gap in their relationship, and Gianni agrees to fulfill Paolo's dream of going to Norway to meet Paolo's pen pal love Kristine. Along this 'road trip' the two ultimately face the idiosyncrasies life has offered each, they grow from each other and .... well, the ending is far too beautifully formed to spoil.
Obviously the easy way to make this film would have been to hire actors to 'mimic' challenged characters, but it is to Amelio's credit and for our good fortune that he has cast unknown physically challenged youths in the pivotal roles. Andrea Rossi as Paolo is a revelation: he gives the kind of performance that is at once honest and yet delicately nuanced. Both Kip Rossi Stuart and Charlotte Rampling are extraordinary, each playing their roles without a trace of bathos. This film does not stab for emotional response; it simply allows connection with a story about the importance of human love and compassion and family commitment. I cannot recommend a film more highly. Grady Harp
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