Shiny Shelf


LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: La Nostra Vita (Our Life)

By Jim Smith on 27 October 2010

Daniele Luchetti’s first feature since ‘My Brother Is An Only Child’ is a low key affair, covering a year in the life of a working class Italian family.  While a large extended family features in the picture, the focus is on Claudio (Elio Germano, who shared the Best Actor Award at Cannes for his performance) in the period immediately after the death of his wife in childbirth, as he struggles to bring up his three sons while dealing with his own loss.

His circumstances are vastly complicated by his mourning-prompted desire to earn as much money as he can, as quickly as he can, in order to assuage his children’s own grief with as many domestic consumables as possible.  There’s also the problem of the dead body he finds one morning on the building site on which he works, the discovery of which he decides to use to blackmail his employer into subcontracting an entire building site to him rather than hiring him, ad hoc as a senior bricklayer/plasterer.

The problem with this is that subcontracting requires a substantial cash buy in, which Claudio can only raise by going cap in hand to a drug dealer who is himself in debt to the mob. Meanwhile, the wife and son of the dead man, now buried, unreported, in the concrete of a nearby apartment block, call round, concerned as to what has happened to him since he was last seen weeks before.

That probably makes this film sound either more dramatic than it is or like some sort of screwball comedy. It’s not.  It’s the sort of low-key, domestic drama that in Britain would be a TV drama starring James Nesbitt (or, if you’re lucky, David Tennant). The cast are all excellent and where the picture succeeds is mostly in its depiction of the odd politics of family life; the juggling of the preferences of parents, siblings and spouses and problems of keeping a family together in times of stress. What’s incredibly surprising from a British perspective is the incredible casualness the characters, including a policeman, exhibit towards being peripherally involved in organised crime.  If it happened in an American film about Italian Americans, you’d call it a racist cliché. Here it’s treated as utterly mundane, only as serious as getting a loan from the bank.

‘La Nostra Vita’ is enjoyable and skillfully made, with a verisimilitude that comes from deceptively artless camera work,  but it ultimately  doesn’t really add up to much. Nor does it offer any new or startlingly worthwhile variations on its wellworn themes and incidents.  Maybe it doesn’t need to,  but the end result is something which is so casual it feels like distilled soap opera – and soap opera from the days before they all went mental and included plane crashes, murders and cataclysms every other week.


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