This is a very European kind of movie, the kind Americans seem almost entirely unable to produce, even in "indie" mode.
I apologise to readers not in Cape Town for reviewing a movie showing in that city alone, but look at the options. The only countrywide releases this week are LOL, the new vehicle for teen pop star Smiley Mucus, or whatever her name is, and Mad Buddies, the new Leon Schuster comedy.
The former has an interesting poster, at least, with the pouting poppet lying back on a shaggy rug and gazing narcissistically at her cellphone. Are we allowed to sexualise her now? The last time she was photographed in a pose that vaguely suggested she may in fact be human and even, just possibly, have active hormones, there was a big to-do in the United States of Puritanism and Porn. She was supposed to be a sexless Barbie doll and, like Shirley Temple in the 1930s, utterly “innocent”. Despite Smiley’s having a thriving career in pop, which hardly entails dressing her in a burqa, to imagine her as in any way seductive was to be instantly branded a paedophile.
Clearly I wasn’t going to be able to sit through LOL, and obviously I’m not in the right demographic to appreciate the charms of Smiley Mucus — so what was the point of reviewing it?
In lieu of LOL, I signed on for the 9am preview of Mad Buddies last Wednesday, but on Tuesday night I awoke screaming in the wee small hours at the mere thought of it, let alone the idea of sitting in traffic for half an hour just so I could be tortured for another hour and a half with more fart jokes than you can shake a fire extinguisher at.
Hence, readers, Consequences of Love, an Italian film from 2004 that is showing at the Labia in Cape Town. The Labia has taken the gap offered by the paucity of real “art movies” showing at the Cinemas Nouveaux of the country. Alongside the watery sub-artiness of films such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the Labia shows a lot of movies one is not otherwise going to be able to see without travelling abroad or stealing videos from M-Net’s closely guarded library of African cinema.
Besides the ongoing screenings of movies such as Consequences of Love, the Labia has various one-off showings of movies from our continent, of classics such as Satyajit Ray’s The World of Apu, and of films on obscure forms of New Age mumbo- jumbo — but we’ll forgive them that last bit.
Consequences of Love opens with, first, a scene of achingly slow miminalism under the credits, then jumps to a bustling Swiss hotel. “I am not a frivolous man,” says the voice-over. “The only frivolous thing I possess is my name, Titta di Girolamo.”
Titta (Toni Servillo) is sitting in a corner of the hotel bar, apparently self-absorbed, closed off from the world around him. He is certainly not a frivolous man, though there is something almost comic about his deeply lugubrious countenance. The very folds of his ageing face are set in such an attitude of restrained despair that it’s hard not to wonder how much of his fastidious gloom is an act and how much is genuine.
One wonders about a lot of things in the early phases of Consequences of Love, and one is meant to. As Titta lights cigarette after cigarette, plods heavily around the hotel’s corridors, or plays desultory card games with the hotel’s other occupants, he presents a puzzle. We don’t know why he’s there, or what he’s doing, or what it all means — or we don’t know at once. The movie disposes its revelations gradually, in truncated bits, and with an elegant obliquity.
This is a very European kind of movie, the kind Americans seem almost entirely unable to produce, even in “indie” mode. It’s a slow thriller, which is to say a thriller that does not rely on plot plot plot to proceed, but rather sets up a thrillerish scenario and then explores it and its central figure with a delicate zigzagging motion. The suspense is not to do with what happens next, as such, but with the minutiae that hint at what might really be going on.
The camera itself has an extraordinary mobility; it’s barely still for a moment. It animates these otherwise still spaces, putting a whole lot of restless life into scenes that seem so constrained they are practically frozen solid.
In what must be a supreme achievement of SteadiCam and artful craning, it dips, swoops, glides and performs balletic trajectories around the movie’s characters. In one amazing shot, it moves from the back of Titta’s head up and over his bald spot and into his face, now inverted, as though he were suspended from the ceiling.
In another sequence, it takes four or five tracking shots, from different positions, just to show us one man’s 30-second encounter with a suitcase — which is just sitting there.
Alongside the remarkable camerawork, there is also an arresting sound design. Noises are given point-of-view priority so that, for instance, when Titta is looking through a big window at a funeral cortege with a horse-drawn hearse, we hear only distantly the clip-clop of horses’ hooves; when the angle changes, as it must in conventional film language, to the point of view of the street and a notional observer looking back in at Titta looking out, suddenly the clip-clop is almost deafening.
This is a little reminder of how fake, frequently, are the very cinematic conventions that allow us viewers to imagine we have some kind of panoptic or godlike view (and thus knowledge) of the people in this world. And that little stylistic flourish fits beautifully, too,with the film’s thematic concerns.
Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, Consequences of Love is the kind of movie we get to see far too seldom in South Africa. It not only subverts our expectations but does so in a beguiling way, sacrificing nothing in watchability by taking the path less often trod.