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After a long time, a new Tornatore film. After the second viewing I
decided to write a comment about it.
When people talk about a film by Giuseppe Tornatore, they think of Sicily first with it's burning sun and it's orange villages. This is one of his darker films, if not his darkest (on par with Il Camorrista).
As sound as the first fade in of this film appeared, I was hooked. I will not spoil anything, but you'll see some pretty powerful stuff. The story is complicated and important, so giving examples might spoil something, so I focus on the experience of this film itself.
I have never seen most of the actors in this (except Placido), but they all did an amazing job. Kseniya Rappoport is so great in this film that it's just haunting. Her performance is a winner without doubt, but the supportive cast never seems shy to make their emotions as real as they can.
The shots that this film uses are great. All Tornatore films are beautiful, but this one is a real dark gem. As him and few other can do, he makes the world real.
The script is strong. I cannot just define it as a drama, because that is a vague term. It's also a disturbing film with a warm touch (a heartbreaking plot that twists in a good way).
Ennio Morricone wrote the score. I am a great fan of him and I must say that even now, being 77, he is still the top composer in the entire industry. With his score for La Sconosciuta he surprised me. Again. This man is so amazing that I curse the Academy awards every day for ignoring him for more than 40 years.
So is there nothing bad about La Sconosciuta? Yes there is; the DVD is only available in Italy. I bought one with English subtitles so I have little problem watching it, but this can be quite a damper on it's international fame. I hope this one gets a great international release, both in cinema and on DVD. Great pieces of art should not be kept indoors.
I give it 10 out of 10. The best of 2006 and perfect in every way.
The Ukranian Irena (Xenia Rappoport) arrives in the city of Velarchi, rents an expensive but simple apartment and seeks a job as a servant in the building in the other side of the street. Then she manages to work for the wealthy couple of gold dealers Adacher, and occasionally babysitting their little daughter Tea (Clara Dossena), who has a rare neurological disease that leaves the little girl without self-defense against any sort of aggression or accident. While working for the family, she is haunted by recollections from her mysterious past of prostitution and violence in Ukrania. However, her nightmares come true when she meets her former pimp that she believed had died. "La Sconosciuta" is a surprisingly solid and original Italian thriller, with an engaging dramatic story disclosed like a puzzle through a non-linear screenplay. I saw this movie on DVD with a group of friends with low expectation and we found it so good that we never dare to stop the film to make any comment, or drink water or go to a toilet so absorbed we were with the story. The direction of Giuseppe Tornatore from "Cinema Paradiso" is outstanding, with top-notch performances of Xenia Rappoport, Clara Dossena and the cast. The resolution of the plot is excellent and never corny. My vote is eight. Title (Brazil): "A Desconhecida" ("The Unknown")
I need to clarify one thing before I begin this review. I am a man. I
enjoy watching muscle cars hurdle through a race track, I could watch
Die hard 2 any day of the week and I never had the urge to watch
Desperate housewives/Sex and the city or anything else that might give
me an insight to the opposite gender (assuming those shows do that). I
am not writing this as an apology on behalf of my gender but because
the female psyche is a realm that I have yet to fathom and this film
not only exposes the abyss of the women's trade atrocities but also to
the uncharted territory of one woman's quest for happiness.
That particular woman is Irena (Xenia Rappoport- her performance is beyond describable), Irena is an Italian speaking, Russian-descent woman in her 30's that starts to work as a maid in an affluent house of well to do parents and their little girl. At first, her "curiosity" for her employers' belongings (and since they are in the Diamond business, belongings they have in abundance) leaves the viewer to assume that Irena is a skilled thief that believes in the broader definition of the term "Cleaning". Clearly, the truth is much more complicated.
It is also clear that the past of Irena is riddled with humiliation, violence and degradation committed on her by, well, the lesser people of my specimen but most of all she is haunted not only by what she had to endure but by what she had and lost and more importantly, what she never got the chance to have. I am deliberately enigmatic because the film is too. The peeling of Irena's past is is gradual and seemingly sporadic and her past is gut wrenching and scarring.
While the viewers are getting clearer glimpses of that past, Irena, knowing that the skeletons in her closet are vivid and always present, forms a bond with her employers' daughter, a young and fragile kid that Irena seems determined, far too determined to a stranger's eye, to instill the street-toughness that Irena had to acquire in ways that are anything but pleasant.
The fictitious story of Irena (which is all too real to too many women) could have been a display of sensationalist voyeurism, a self righteous lecture of the trivial and obvious (and let's face it, I didn't need to see the film to find the notion of women trading despicable) or a mere excuse to show a morbid film under a politically correct subject.
This film doesn't have a shred of the above characteristics. The director enhances the horror atmosphere by the chilling musical score, the absolutely flawless acting and script and primarily, by exposing a woman's quest for happiness amidst the live that leaves very little chance of attaining it.
I am usually highly reluctant to discover major plot advancement in movies (even movies I don't recommend to watch) but this film excavates the problem because the deciphering the enigmatic story of Irena is so engrossing and the most valuable asset of the film that disclosing even the smallest of details might weaken the movie's effect. This movie is worth seeing with a companion so you can discuss its qualities and ponder of the true nature of the movie's end (and I used the word "Enigmatic" in this review far too many times already).
There are a couple of matters that I do prefer to clarify:
The movie is the reason why people make movies and why people like yours truly enjoy movies so much. Not only there aren't any noticeable flaws in the film, there are also no redundant scenes, tedious dialog lines that could be discarded or disturbing views that can be eliminated without heavily impairing the overall impression of the film.
The disturbing views are usually implied and the ones that are clear appear for a fraction of a second but leaves a far longer impression. Those of you who envision this film as a myriad of scenes of red wine and Lake Maggiore passing through the window of a fiat 500 are in for a major disappointment.
The rest, though, will experience the true effect of a flawless film that leaves an impression that exceeds the limitations of my penmanship.
10 out of 10 in My FilmOmeter
We have been waiting for Tornatore for years. But it was worthy, if this is the result! After Malena, he is returning to the highest levels of his carrier. Few movies, but most of them are unforgettable pearls! In this one, nothing is out of place and all the actors are playing at their best, with various original stories all perfectly interlacing: everything put together, this is one of the best movies ever directed by Tornatore!! Michele Placido is heavily representing the evil in this story, playing one of his most ambiguous, scaring and demonic characters of his long carrier. But everyone is completely believable in their roles and the suspense of the plot keeps you constantly concentrated until the end.
"The Unknown Woman" is such an intense film that don't even think about "having a good time" while going to see it. "Cinema Paradiso" shouldn't be your reference for this "dark" Tornatore film. This is not for having a good time! This is for witnessing the lives that you can hardly think someone lived. This is feeling the pain of injustice in your veins. This is feeling shame that you live in such a world and can't and won't be able to do anything to change it. This is heart breaking! This is being absorbed by a touching story that is beautifully told. This is what cinema is for. One can only say,"Bravo Tornatore"!
We have been waiting for Tornatore since Malena, in 2000, and now he has come back with this drama/ thriller, with a rather melodramatic plot inspired by the often very tragic news stories about the exploitation of women from East Europe in Italy. The main character, the Ukranian Irena, played by the wonderful and hardly known Russian stage actress Xenia Rappoport, has something very mysterious about her. She pursues an obscure aim, concerning the young Italian couple whom she works for and their 5 years old daughter. At the beginning the film has something very hitchcockian about it, then it turns to melodrama, with many emotional moments (don't forget your hankies!) There are few very hard scenes, with much violence, mental and physical. Tornatore does the usual good work. In this film he could count on a capital cast, including, besides Rappoport, the cream of the crop of Italian acting: an hairless and extremely sleazy Michele Placido, the very good Claudia Gerini and Pierfrancesco Favino, Alessandro Haber, Piera degli Esposti and Margherita Buy, who agreed to appear just a few minutes by the end of the film. Clara Dossena, the child actress who play one of the key characters of the film, is not only incredibly cute, but also much talented. A very remarkable thing is the score by maestro Ennio Morricone. Some critics said it's too invasive, but God, it's beautiful. I think you will love the sweet and heartbreaking "Lullaby theme". On the whole, a convincing film. Probably the best of the first Roma Film Festival. My rating is 8/10
I rented this film without big expectations but it turned out a real surprise and I kept thinking about it for many days afterwards. Each and every actor/actress is great in their role, even the child playing Tea. The story is original, brutal and moving. The location is somewhere nowadays in northern Italy and the affluent Italian middle-class is shown as cold, busy, and not ready to easily accept and integrate foreigner workers. Irena (main character) finds her way in such complex society for a purpose not easy to guess... If you like well crafted drama with a surprising and touching end, this film is definitely for you. 10/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Irena, who arrives in Trieste, with what appears to be a lot of cash,
looking for an apartment where to live; she chooses a dilapidated place
that offers an advantage: from its windows, she can spy on the building
across the square. In order to gain access, Irina bribes the janitor
into getting work as a maid. She seeks Gina, a woman who works for a
couple that make jewelry in their spacious apartment. It is clear Irena
has something else in mind, and couldn't care less for Gina.
When Gina suffers an accident, Irena applies for the position, and surprise, surprise, she gets it. The rapport with the little girl Tea becomes apparent. Valeria Adacher, the lady of the house warns her about Tea, who has what appears to be a neurological condition that makes her fall and cannot get up by herself. She also tells her not to enter her workshop ever. Irina spots the safe where the jewelry is kept. Naturally, one assumes then, her interest in gaining access to the house is to steal, but no, she has something else in mind, as we watch her going over some papers that are kept locked up. Valeria and her husband, Donato, seem not to be a happy couple. They are heard loudly arguing in the background by the maid, so all is not right in their home.
Irina and Tea form a tight bond, something that Valeria notices right away. The maid wants to teach the girl how to overcome her handicap, and to this end, she ties Tea and pushes her to the mattresses on the floor and coaxes her into getting up using her technique. In our minds we begin wondering if there is more in Irena's attitude toward Tea because it is a rare thing for a house maid to become so involved in making better someone that is not even related to her.
In flashbacks we get to know a little bit of Irena's past. She has been turned into a prostitute by Italian criminals who import these poor girls from Russia. She meets a young man who seems to love her. Since she is what she is, this lover, is made to disappear by Mold, the vicious man that controls her. Irena discovers where he has stashed his cash and tries to kill Mold with scissors, but unknown to her, he survives. Mold has a way of turning up when he is least expected.
Things turn out wrong for Irena when Valeria discovers her dark secret. She fires her and forbids her to go near Tea. Unfortunately, Valeria dies in an automobile accident for which Irena is accused of masterminding. At the same time, things about the mystery surrounding the Russian woman are revealed. In her trial, she is convicted and sent to prison. As the film concludes, we see an older Irena who is released after serving time and as she waits for a bus, who would show up to meet her?
Giuseppe Tornatore, the talented Italian director of the hugely popular "Cinema Paradiso" and "Malena", just to mention two of his previous films, makes us get involved with this complex story. Working with his collaborator, Massimo DeRita, he has created a multi layered melodrama that involves the viewer. The only problem is that many things are not completely explained. Thus, there is a hint that Donato Adacher has a lot to do in the story, although his participation is a subtle one. The other mystery is Gina, who for all appearances dies in the accident, but later is seen at the nursing home in a catatonic state, but is she really? The idea that Mold can survive the stabbing is hard to digest, after all, it's a big stretch of the imagination to think he can still be around after what Irena does to him. Mr. Tornatore is obviously playing with the viewer in making him believe to look at things a certain way, while he is deceiving our perception of the plot. If all that is superfluous, then the viewer is going to have a great time.
Best of all in the film is Ksenia Rappoport, who plays Irena convincingly. She runs away with the film. Ms. Rappoport pulls us into the story without doing much. Claudia Gerini's Valeria is also an asset in the film. Alessandro Haber who plays the janitor has some excellent moments. Michele Placido is seen as the obnoxious criminal Mold. Margherita Buy, one of the best Italian actresses working these days puts in an appearance at the last part of the film. Finally, Clara Dossena makes a valuable contribution as Tea, the sweet child in the story.
The musical score by the master of all movie composers, Ennio Morricone, will stay in our minds for a while. Fabion Zamarion's impeccable cinematography makes a great impression. We await Mr. Tornatore's next film impatiently.
not a false move anywhere in this movie. superb acting/direction. beautifully shot, yet disturbing, troubling, and brutal. a mystery, thriller, love story, but it's not simply about adult love, even though it's present;it has almost mother daughter love. murder, trickery,prostitution, thievery, cruelty, affection. stunning photography, great music, and a plot with believable twists. not a film that cheats the audience with false leads, implausible situations, or idiotic characters. great dialogue, even in the translation. not a car chase, snide, supposedly witty remark in it at all. some scenes are really difficult, but they are short snatches, quickly cut and edited. this one should rank up there with any recent Italian masterpiece.
I did not know anything about the movie except that it was made by the
director of Malena (a movie that I did not like that much except its
images and story line). I had totally no expectations from this one and
I sat wondering what is to come.
The story is about a Ukrainian girl Irina (Russian actress Kseniva Rappoport) who comes from a small village and has a lover who is a construction worker. Due to dreams of becoming rich and famous, she becomes a prostitute and is exploited by a pimp Muffa (Michele Placido), who kills the lover, sells off the newly born child of pregnant Irina and sadomizes & beats Irina in sex work. The movie is extremely mysterious with Irina's past unfolding with tits and bits of flashback while she works as a house maid for a small family Valeria (Claudia Gerini), her husband Donato (Pierfrancesco Favino) and their daughter Tea (Clara Dossena) - in an Italian city. I won't tell you the whole story here and spoil the great viewing.
Famous Italian Director Giuseppe Tornatore directs this movie after six years of gap and comes out with a winner. The movie has its thrills, drama and emotions that keep the audience on the edge of the seat. There are some disturbing violent and sexual content in the movie.
Kseniva is so beautiful and acts brilliantly throughout displaying the range of emotions that a few actresses get to enact in their entire career. Michele Placido as Muffa is scary and real mean. The stealer performance is by Clara as a 5 year old daughter who acts naturally. Claudi and Pierfrancesco are also good.
Giuseppe always extracts excellent cinematography and background musical score, so does he this time.
In the last 20 minutes, the movie looses its hold a bit but all in all it is a great movie viewing. I do not know Italian or the Dutch sub-titles but good movies do not require local language to communicate and good directors are not restrictive with any aspects of constraining mediums of cinema.
That is the brilliance of classical form of movie making! (Stars 7.25 out of 10)
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