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The Consequences of Love

A new Italian film shows that there are merits to taking it slow.

Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Topics Politics

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In the beginning of The Consequences of Love (Le Conseguenze dell’Amore), the main character, lethargic Titta di Girolamo, threatens to swallow the film in his tedious wake.

Isolated in a generic hotel in an Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland because of a mistake with mafia money, Titta, played by Toni Servillo, is punished with a life sentence as errand boy for the mafia, delivering a suitcase of cash once a week to a Swiss bank.

His lethargy, unfortunately, is infectious. Watching Toni breathe through cigarettes and follow his proscribed tasks with all the spontaneity of a Swiss clock, I longed for the whimsical 1950s Italian filmmaking. Where, I wondered, are the Antonionis, the Fellinis, the golden-age Italian cinema directors who made characters droopy with ennui without condemning the film to the same fate? I thought of Marcello Mastroianni, funny and charming in 8 ½, even when he was confused and aimless. Where was the light touch of Rome’s Cinecittà film studios? Maybe it had gone the way of Titta himself, had become dark and plodding after years of the same dull ritual, with wrinkles etched so deep it would be impossible to un-furrow his brow.

But as the film progressed, I realised that Titta’s brooding face – and not just his face alone, but the style of the film he carries, different from Hollywood, willing to linger, to evoke the profound – is the face of modern Italian cinema. It isn’t light and decorated, it’s austere and honest. Servillo’s performance as Titta is deeply moving, and as immaculate as his Italian wardrobe.

Halfway through the film, Titta warns himself to ‘beware the consequences of love’. In fact, the consequences are more than he can bear. He’s spent his life avoiding them. In a series of little clues, we learn that Titta felt lonely and trapped even before the Mafia sentenced him to the hotel, the bank runs. He’s tailored his external world to reflect his inner one, rather than the reverse. Flashbacks and descriptions of his life 10 years before his mafia blunder suggest he has both chosen loneliness, his living death, and suffered from it, by holding love at bay. But with the help of the hotel bartender, Sofia, played by ocean-eyed Olivia Magnani (granddaughter of Cinecittá star Anna Magnani), he begins to wander into love’s fraught territory – but only as far as he can.

And then the film picks up speed. In one scene, the hotel landlord nosily asks about Titta’s occupation, his secret. Titta responds by asking for a fair trade: if the landlord will share, he will share in equal measure. The landlord offers a trivial confession of a petty theft; Titta responds in kind with a story of stealing his brother’s pasta in his hometown of Salerno. They are protective because ‘a secret told is no longer a secret’. Titta gives only as much as he can afford to lose; and the film operates on the same principle. The Consequences of Love is like a wary lover: secrets are revealed only when absolutely necessary.

Hollywood distrusts the snail-pace required to create character; most characters are made fast, trite, sound-bit, as sickly sweet and unsatisfying as cinema candy. In contrast, director and scriptwriter Paolo Sorrentino (in only his second feature film, the first was L’uomo in Più or One Man Up) reveals himself to be a master of the slow build. Patience through the start yields rich rewards. Like the secret-telling scene, there is a trade: the reward is commiserate with the patience. By the end of the film, what I originally mistook for slowness turned out to be cadence, and what I mistook for paucity was perfect economy.

In one scene, with a stethoscope to the door, Titta listens to an old couple (played by Raffaele Pisu and Angela Goodwin) bickering in the adjacent room. They used to own the hotel, and now just rent the room. Their grandeur faded, their wealth spent, they fight over the last valuable and sentimental thing – whether to sell it and go to Cambodia, a long-time dream. No, they must not, the wife argues: ‘The show is over, and you must resign yourself.’ But the film argues against resignation, at the same time as it is resigned to it. For Titta there is a point when watching and observation end and living begins – and it is poignant (for the audience and for him) because it is earned.

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Topics Politics

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