Director: Antonio Luigi Grimaldi
Starring: Nanni Moretti, Valeria Golino,Alessandro Gassman
UK Release date: 24 October 2008
Certificate: 15 (105 mins)
Don’t go to see this film at once; wait till you’re having a really bad day.
I always know when I’m having a bad day: my (I hope) calm professional empathy with homeless, feckless, miserable, chaotic drug users edges over into sympathy and then a peculiar kind of envy at people who at least have a steady, even if intravenous, supply of contentment. Perhaps, in Western cities the largest crunch is not of credit, of currency or of commerce, but of contentment. And, this film believes, finding it requires a little quiet chaos.
Pietro Paladini (Nanni Moretti) is an Italian television executive: popular, successful, rich and uxorious. But, when his wife dies (maybe by suicide, but we don’t go there), his life descends into a quiet chaos. In his grief, he finds himself doing many things for the first time. One of them is to take his daughter Claudia (Blu Di Martino) to school for the first time. In a careless moment, he makes an idle promise to wait for her all day. And having promised, like any good Italian Dad, he must fulfil, whatever the cost. And so, for the first time in a long time, he calls in sick to work and takes time to see life happen around him.
In his first day of people watching, he discovers how little he really knows of the world he inhabits and the joy that small acts of kindness to a stranger are rewarded, even in this world. This leads to a reflection of how little he truly knows of the lives of both his daughter and his dead wife. He also learns from his daughter about palindromes. Some things - some rare special things in life - are reversible. Life can only be lived forwards; but can only be understood backwards.
And so he stays every day outside the school, relearning the lessons of life. It becomes a kind of retreat as he reorders the furniture of his mind. And having become a still point in the world, a man of integrity - one who has learned something of his true priorities - gradually the world comes to him.
Yes, it really is that simple. But it is naïf, rather than naïve; it is a parable, not a documentary. It makes no claim that this is the way the world is; just one possible hope for how it might be. Contentment is to be found by living in congruity with what is central to our lives – discovering our greatest desires and fulfilling them. If, as Ignatius believed, a man took seriously the notion that he was created to praise, reverence and serve God and truly lived out of that commitment, who knows what God could do with him? If you can suspend your disbelief for 105 minutes, then by the end - however you started - you will feel glad to be alive, to be loved and to be capable of love.
As the credits rolled, I turned my collar to the cold and damp, strode out into the London snow, and a few minutes later caught myself singing in Berkeley Square.
Paul O'Reilly SJ
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