Premieres Friday, July 26, at the Park Theatre
Sentimental excess and visual opulence were key elements to writer/director Giuseppi Tornatore's Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso, but he's dropped them here in favour of a spare, elegiac tone. His new aims are more challenging and rewarding: he wants to illuminate the frail bonds which unite, and also oppress, all human families. It's a tall order, and the movie's considerable charm lies in its ability to approach such tender territory without making its methods or messages too obvious.
Instead, it appears to be a simple character study centring on pensioner Matteo Scuro, a minor Sicilian bureaucrat fond of insisting that others ask him what he wants to tell them. Undertaking a quixotic journey through the Italian mainland, he's ostensibly checking the well-being of his five grown children, who have long assured Matteo of their admirable successes. As sweetly detailed as these encounters turn out to be, there's more going on.
To begin with, Scuro (the name has to do with darkness and light) is played by Marcello Mastroianni, who, in 45 years and almost 150 films, has become identified with things Italian more than any other actor. He manages to pump enough life and depth of feeling into the role to make it a definitive part for him.
More than that, though, he sums up the hopes and tribulations his country has experienced since World War II. The urban and rural landscapes shown are rarely the boisterous, sun-dappled cafes and coastlines we expect; instead, we meet people (including, briefly, Paradiso's round-faced boy, Toto Cascio, and elderly Michele Morgan, one of the grand faces of French cinema) who converse in hushed tones beneath grey skies as Matteo struggles to piece together memory, illusion, and harsh new realities.
This stylistic restraint pays off richly in emotion and pure entertainment. When Tornatore introduces special and surreal effects to these quiet proceedings (supported by some of Ennio Morricone's best music), they grip the imagination with surprising, and enduring, force.
One warning: Everybody's Fine, like most Italian movies, suffers from post-production dubbing so inaccurate and artificial in its reverberant intensity that some may confuse the film's gentle art for late-night Hercules-type frivolity.