La terra (2006)
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Intense conversations remain a mystery. Like Luigi, who is coming back to his hometown after a long spell away, we are not up to speed on what has happened in the intervening years. With this roundabout approach, the director steals up on us creating an air of bewilderment and imparts a wry humour to very embittered arguments. We slowly gather that Luigi's past includes an accidental murder, and that his future will depend on untangling the mess that his three brothers have got themselves into.
Luigi was only popping into town to sign a few papers, but now everyone expects him to 'do something.' At the centre of it is a plot of land left to them by their father, but Luigi's brothers have very different needs and intentions. Added to the mix, are the charms of the lovely Angela, who loves skinny-dipping and running through the rain. Italian passions soon fly fast and furious.
Half way through, another death plunges Our Land into a full-on murder-mystery. The wife-beating nightclub owner Tonino, played brilliantly by the director himself, is so slimy and sinister as to make all the wrangling brothers seem like good kids. "Do you all get on?" asks the police inspector, without the slightest trace of sarcasm. The solution is emotional, tense, and changes the relationship between the brothers forever.
Our Land is a remarkable piece of cross-genre Italian cinema from the director who first came to our attention with The Station. It includes impressive performances with an unusual and ingenious plot. The gradually unravelling story makes for compulsive viewing and the excellent characterisation gives us reason to care about the protagonists even before we know what they've done or why. Colourful scenery, excellent script and a very brisk pace, all combine to entertain without ever talking down to us. Although slightly cluttered, the film rewards the effort needed to assimilate all the details and would withstand repeated viewing. Gems like this remind us that Italian cinema is alive and kicking.