Even though it is all about guns and drugs, the film’s message gets delivered by toys and children. In them, Vittorio’s deep spiritual inner voice finds salvation. But his partner in crime Cesare is an equal force that loves destruction and might take Vittorio down with him. In this equal fight, of both performance and character, higher questions emerge about the roots of human morality.
4 out of 4 stars
Of thugs and hearts
I have never seen a thug quite like Vittorio. Yes, some great gangster characters do come to the mind who have a spiritual inner voice (I use the present tense because the characters don’t end with their films). However, Vittorio’s inner self is so mystified and surreal, it will most likely hypnotize you. There is a scene where a stoned Vittorio (Alessandro Borghi) sees some people on the street. He stops the car, gets out, and keeps watching them. When his friend takes him back into the car, Vittorio tells him to drive carefully. He does not want those people to get hurt. Thing is, there are no people before them. Vittorio sees such things, which are never quite explained. These are visions that work more on impact and less on rationality, much like any surreal scene. But they do prove that Vittorio has striking principles.
Vittorio spends his days mostly fooling around with his friend Cesare (Luca Marinelli). We follow their diverse activities throughout the film. The first 10 minutes with them will disgust you. Within the next 20 minutes, you will have started caring for them. Sometime later, you will even admire them. Cesare lives with his mother and his sister’s daughter Debora (Alice Clementi). His sister died because of AIDS. Her child Debora, too, is not healthy. Cesare loves his family. It is not clear who is there in Vittorio’s home. But I am sure whoever he has had in his life, he has loved them.
That teddy bear
Anybody who is expecting a solid action-packed gangster thriller will be sorely disappointed. The film is more about lives and less about conscious artificial plots. But the film does use one of the most common rules of character development. It presents characters who are essentially damaged. Vittorio and Cesare are damaged by bad upbringings, lack of opportunities, and shortage of skills. More alarmingly, they tend to inhale more drugs than oxygen into their bodies. It is when they individually fall in love does the second part of the rule comes into play. Characters need to be damaged but driven. Cesare likes life high. He wants a happy future with his girlfriend. But he cannot forget the temporary high that a snort or a small crime might bring.
As mentioned before, Vittorio is a man with principles. He does not fool people for money. He does not want to be called a thug. When he really meets his girl, he decides to settle with her and start serious work. Thus Vittorio is a character damaged, but driven, which Cesare isn’t. As their individual paths of life start deviating from each other, one might wonder why two people of similar backdrops think differently. Is it because small things in life embed deep underlying principles in one’s childhood? principles that motivate your essence towards the good because you know the other side is wrong. It is bad. At one point in the film, Cesare gives Debora a teddy bear. While playing with it, Debora unfolds its collar to reveal three words. It says, ‘Don’t be bad’.
Don’t be bad
For the rest of the film, Vittorio will struggle to keep Cesare on track. In one touching scene, noir music goes on in the background as Vittorio lies on the floor, holding an unconscious Cesare close to his heart. He knows what is coming. He knows everything might be in vain. As a filmmaker, Claudio Caligari understood and utilized the essence of noir better than most hardcore noir filmmakers. Few films’ evocations of doom feel as resonating. A veteran in filmmaking (this was his last), Caligari also understood the significance of silence.
Likewise, Vittorio is mostly silent and observant of the world around him. Played by the amazing Alessandro Borghi, his eyes bridge his spirit and what he sees. When they are acutely expressive, you know that some tumultuous thought is going behind them. When he holds Vittorio close, it’s as if he is seeing the future. He is paralleled by Luca Marinelli, whose Cesare screams to be noticed. Only when he is silent do you realize he is afraid. He knows he is not strong. He holds Vittorio like one holds on to life. But his thirst to prove his bravado will take him away from Vittorio.
From this point on, we as the audience will like to see Cesare saved. But more definitely, you will want Vittorio to stay safe. Why so? Is it because you feel his goodness of character and principles? Might be. At one point, when he deviates, his eyes fall on a child. The responsibility of the future makes him cry. Even though it is all about guns and drugs, the film’s message gets delivered by toys and children. An act of ill intention will destroy the hope that is in their eyes. Therefore, don’t be bad.
Credits (from IMDb):
Claudio Caligari … (story)
Claudio Caligari … (screenplay) &
Giordano Meacci … (screenplay) &
Francesca Serafini … (screenplay)