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"Straight from the Director's Fortnight of the 2008 Cannes Film Festival comes this biting & poignant drama from Francesco Munzi, who displays a level of deft sophistication and power only hinted at with his debut prize-winner Saimir." So read the promotional notes to this intriguing film that is clearly a cut above most Italian dramas.
In one sense, it is three stories in one. The first is the story of an affluent upper-middle class family. The second is a story of some down-and-out struggling Romanian migrants, one of whom is fired as the maid of the family when she is suspected of stealing. The third is the collision of these two worlds. Each part has a different aesthetic.
The Rest of the Night is an ambitious film and Munzi is attempting to weave a web that will attract a wide audience. The affluent story is pure contemporary Italian cinema (at least, what we see of it here). There's the selfish and demanding husband, there's the beautiful but fading wife and the cute and spoilt teenage daughter. Perhaps Munzi's intention is subversive, because this aspect of the film acts like a hook for a conventional audience.
I say "hook", because the migrant story is more in the realm of social realism á la 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. Indeed, Laura Vasiliu (Marja, the maid) played the pregnant student seeking an abortion in that film. Dismissed at short notice, Marja in her desperation returns to the low-life. This part of the film is effective, though perhaps there is a lack of subtlety in differentiating the high- and low-lives. Nonetheless, the aesthetics of the bleakness is a welcome change to the bland and mostly middle-class stories that Italy exports.
These two worlds collide in the film's third act, and the film's tone changes to one of a crime drama. For my taste, I don't think Munzi has been wholly successful in weaving these three stories together. I'd have preferred that he stick to one aesthetic or another. But then, perhaps this is not intended for an art-house audience. I think it works best as a film for mainstream audiences who like quality drama, with a few surprises. As I often say, I prefer a film to take risks and not be completely successful, than one that aims low and succeeds. Munzi has taken risks and this film is worth a look.
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