I always look forward to Italian dramas about relationships; you just know they’re going to be full of thought-provoking platitudes dreamed up by characters who don’t seem to have very demanding day-jobs and who, in a matter of days can entice or repel their neighbours through bumbling slapstick. La Giusta Distanza, in the first 15 minutes, might fall into this category, but overall it’s not your average love story. There are several surprising turns which make it tricky to predict anything, creating suspense at times but simultaneously failing to point the audience in any particular direction. I was floundering for a bit, unsure of how to apply the typical hero-villain dichotomy to this story, but perhaps this is the point. The question of who ends up with who is open-ended until the last, driven by complex characters whose actions kept me thinking for days afterward.
When Mara (Valentina Lodovini) finds herself slowly integrating into the sleepy Po river community to which she has just moved, she is uncertain of how friendly to become with her neighbours and what to make of all the advances coming her way. After a few missteps, Hassan (Ahmed Hafiene) is overjoyed to have wooed her, and it seems that the tense atmosphere the film clings to will be cast off, and everyone will follow suit in finding their own happiness. However, the narrative soon becomes needlessly creepy, bordering on thriller but without having completely connected the dots. It seems there will be no moral consequences for young journalist, Giovanni, who has liked Mara all along and fails to stop himself from prying into her personal life. The audience is led to believe that Giovanni will one day use his knowledge of Mara’s intimate world to further his career and be picked up by as many papers as possible; he is, however, simply a foolish bystander who acts too conservatively too late.
Director Carlo Mazzacurati makes some stunning choices when it comes to highlighting the vulnerable in the cast. The filming has a voyeuristic quality at times, turning its subject into prey and the scene itself into a claustrophic space. This is cleverly contrasted with the panning shots of the community’s rather isolated Italian village, as if to imply that in so much freedom there is great trapping.
The tale is ultimately an introspective one, but presents a level of suffering that is somewhat difficult to internalise, given the sense that we’re just not given the full picture. Intriguing, and overall a night of good film festival entertainment: just don’t expect doe-eyed lovers and neat resolutions.
La Giusta Distanza screens at the Toronto Italian Contemporary Film Festival on Wednesday, June 27 at 8 p.m. preceded by a 7 p.m. reception at the AMC 30 Interchange Way, Vaughan. For more info and the full ICFF programme, go to icff.ca.