Friday, November 17, 2017

Cinema Italian Style: Easy

SIFF’s annual Cinema Italian Style festival wrapped up last night with Easy, an outstanding and gentle black-comedy (yes, there is such a thing), written and directed by Andrea Magnani, about an obese and depressed man who hauls a coffin from Italy to a small village in Ukraine.  

Easy (short for Isidore) is a total loser.  A former go-cart champion, he’s now a fat, sad, and heavily-medicated man living with his mother (played by Barbara Bouchet) who nags him to diet and makes him wear a sweater with the number two on it.  The other son, Filo, gets the sweater with the number one on it.  When a Ukrainian worker dies on one of Filo’s construction sites he ropes in his reluctant and quasi-somnambulant brother to drive the body back to Ukraine on his own. 

Naturally, everything goes wrong.  The hearse is stolen, no one speaks Italian, Easy runs out of pills, he gets arrested, loses all him money, the GPS won’t work (at one point it switches into Chinese), border guards make him shave off his beard, and he suffers endless gastric distress due to the fact that he pretty much eats everything in site.  But he prevails.  And by the end of the film his depression is disappearing and he’s emerging from his fourteen-year rut.  In the final shot of the movie he stands among the mourners at a Ukrainian funeral and ask himself “Where do I go now?”  It’s a beautiful and ambiguous moment - both sad (because he’s still lost) and optimistic (because he’s now a new man, liberated from his past).

Nicola Nocella is excellent in the lead role.  With his babyish pursed lips and wide-eyed gaze of confusion he’s a perfect naif, a modern Candide who knows perfectly well that this is not the best of all possible worlds.  We talk about someone being non-plussed, Nocella’s Easy is always-plussed.  He has no composure to break; he goes into every situation expecting the worst.  Yet he seems as static, centered, and immovable as the Buddha, making Chance the Gardner (a.k.a. Peter Sellers in Being There) look like a scenery-chewing hambone.  Like the comics of the silent era, he is a sane man in an insane world.  

Easy is Andrea Magnani’s debut as a feature-film director and he's done a masterful job.  The movie has a visual self-assurance and narrative control that you don’t often see in first-time outings.  There’s never a false note or forced moment.  In the Q & A after the film Magnani cited Wes Anderson as one of his influences, adding that he wasn’t even aware of that fact until he started shooting.  The symmetrical shots so beloved by Anderson (and Kubrick, for that matter) abound in the early part of the film, as though the obese Easy is the center of a gravitational field which also imprisons him.  Over time, though, the shots seem to become less symmetrical; Easy will be on the side of the frame or diagonal within it, as if he is visually breaking free too.  Magnani also referenced the influence of westerns with their concept of a man being hired to make a journey which tests, confronts, and ultimately changes him.  (A funeral, which is where Easy ends, is usually obligatory in westerns as well.)

This is an exceptionally good movie which you should not miss if you have the chance.

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