ANCHE LIBERO VA BENE (Kim Rossi Stuart, 2006)

Wonderful Kim Rossi Stuart, who has been acting since he was five, has turned to directing with Anche libero va bene, which he, along with Linda Ferri, co-wrote, and in which he combustibly stars as Renato, a financially struggling photographer who is class-conscious, at war with the modern world, at war with his wife, who serially abandons him and their two children for long stretches of infidelity, and who is in over his head doing the best he possibly can to raise the kids, who more or less have to raise him much of the time. Renato can be unreasonable, such as when he demands that his son, 11-year-old Tommi, persevere with his competitive swimming despite the fact the boy hates swimming; all Tommi, the film’s coming-of-age protagonist, wants to do is play football (soccer). Renato castigates Tommi for not being a man because he worries that he, himself, isn’t much of one. Tommi and older sister Viola try hard to keep afloat in the midst of the challenging adult circumstances they are compelled to witness—and they do the best they possibly can to help keep their father afloat. Stuart plunges unexpectedly into the use of subjective camera to project Tommi’s sensation of drowning during a swim meet. Each member of the family, in one way or another, feels as though he or she is drowning.

Stuart shot his film at his own childhood school; he also swam competitively as a child; he was abandoned by his mother when he was four. Such autobiographical elements do not distract him from providing a precise, wise, clear-eyed presentation of the material—for which, I might add, he has won a plethora of prizes. However, some may feel, as I do, that Stuart’s debut feature is, simultaneously, both somewhat inflated and too small, too slight, too narrow. As a first-time director, Stuart is shakily getting his toes wet.

Reviewers have praised this film for not being a piece of sentimental garbage like Robert Benton’s Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). That is true, but it doesn’t mean that the film couldn’t have been a whole lot better.

 

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