Warning: the following post contains partial spoilers.
Perhaps no other national cinema to have ever reached the heights of the Italian industry has thereafter experienced a decline comparable to Italy's. The story hardly demands repeating: from the rise of neorealismo in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War to the deaths of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti and Roberto Rossellini in the mid-to-late 1970s, the Italian cinema was among the world's most notable. And since? Italy's most recognizable cinematic accomplishments, apart from a handful of relatively minor works from aging masters Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini, have included Nanni Moretti's critically-lauded, if narcissistic film treatises - such as Caro Diario (1993) and The Son's Room (2001) - as well as the occasional exploration of the nation's previous century, from veteran director Francesco Rosi's Three Brothers (1981) to Marco Tuillo Giordana's The Best of Youth (2003). (A less generous accounting might also point to Cinema Paradiso  or the films of Roberto Begnini, which together represent the best known Italian film art of the past two decades.) If Moretti has served as the leading international figure of the era, the source of the crisis is clear enough: Italy has not found artists to fill the enormous gaps left by its now departed masters.
The first decade of the twenty-first century, however, has provided a glimmer of hope in this otherwise depressing filmic landscape. In addition to Giordana's aforementioned The Best of Youth, a male weepy to stand beside the best of De Sica, the 2000s has brought world cinema Italy's first new major filmmaker in ages, writer-director Paolo Sorrentino. Sorrentino's strong 2006 release, The Family Friend (L'Amico di famiglia), which screened last spring at Walter Reade, demostrated an affinity with Fellini, though one that had been filtered through American maestro David Lynch. However, it is the director's more Antonioniesque 2004 title, The Consequences of Love (Le Conseguenze dell'amore), which truly reveals the extraordinary talent of the Naples native. The Consequences of Love opens with a wide-angle, oblique framing of a moving walkway and the neon lighting over head. A figure moves slowly toward the foreground in this extreme long take that Sorrentino has chosen to score with electronic music, as he has much of his film. With the camera reframing to capture the male subject getting off the walkway - with the music eliminated - Sorrentino joins the image with the excessively loud sound of his suitcase being drug across the steel boundary delimiting the rubber path and the adjacent floor. In other words, Sorrentino creates a wry punch-line out of this sudden change in figure movement and the accompanying audio.
The figure presented in this first sequence will be shortly confirmed as the picture's protagonist - through his authorship of the subsequent voice over. As his monologues commence, he tells us that "the worst thing for a man who spends a lot of time alone is a lack of imagination," and hence, that "I am not a frivolous man; the only frivolous thing about me is my name, Titta di Girolamo." Titta (played by Toni Servillo) may well lack imagination, but as it will become clear, it is his shyness that is his larger flaw. Not that he is otherwise without his shortcomings: as another bit of voice over will indicate, his one vice is the use of heroin once a week - and only once a week, always at the same Wednesday morning hour - for the past twenty-four years. Likewise, as will take even longer to make clear, his business involves delivering suitcases of mafia money to backrooms - a job that requires that he hold but not use a pistol. There will be one pivotal exception to both his use of firearms and also his weekly consumption of narcotics later in the picture.
But first to the ultimate cause of each: Sofia (the exceedingly beautiful Olivia Magnani, granddaughter of Anna). Sofia is employed as a bar waitress at the hotel in which Titta has resided for the previous eight years. At the conclusion of her shift, she wishes "arrivederci" to the intractable male lead who invariably fails to respond to the gorgeous brunette. Rather he simply watches her leave, through the large sidewalk-facing windows, in the driver's seat of an automobile with an unidentified - for the moment, at least - male. But he, and Sorrentino's camera take notice, with the latter panning in slow-motion from her lips down to her legs, or subsequently sneaking a peak of the beauty topless as she changes following her shift. Titta, for his part, finally works up the courage to at least sit across from her at the bar, an act that he describes as the most "dangerous" of his life.
This existential act follows the arrival and departure of Titta's brother, nineteen years his younger, who shallowly chats up the same woman that the former can not even greet in passing. Sitting with his brother in the same seat he always occupies, Titta's brother witnesses Titta's poor treatment of the woman, who in the presence of both complains that the older gentleman does not even notice or respect her enough to return her daily goodbyes. Obviously this is far from the case for the lead who is already contemplating the "consequences of love." Thus, with this confrontation and his subsequent successful encounter with the lady, Titta becomes emboldened, leading the gentleman to plunder a large denomination of mob money for the express purchase of buying the woman a gift - which she correctly interprets as an attempt to buy her love. It goes without saying that there will be consequences for this act, but indeed it will be a second shortfall that prompts greater problems with the syndicate.
The resolution for both plot lines will rely on a formal strategy unique to The Consequences of Love: namely, of the temporary withholding of details germane to the narrative, only to be revealed thereafter in an explanatory manner. With respect to the romantic resolution of sorts, Sorrentino temporarily suppresses a piece of recent action in order to inhabit Titta's psychology (and to create suspense) at the decisive juncture. With regard to his encounter with the mafioso bigs, Sorrentino hides a key plot point until the confrontation occurs, in this case divorcing spectatorial knowledge from that of his protagonist - again in order to magnify the suspense of the situation. Sequence is repeatedly suspended for the sake of suspense, whether at these key moments or in less dramatic passages, where the technique is effectively used for the sake of explanation.
Apart from the film's remixing of sequence, it is the director's jarring use of soundtrack - with an unmistakable taste for both moody electronic and pulsating house styles - juxtaposed with the film's continually mobile visual track that marks Sorrentino's disctinctive, and one might even argue post-modern aesthetic. Post-modern, or post-modernist, less for either of the above than for Sorrentino's ironic world view, emphasized in his glib sense of humor (other great example include a figure walking into a pole in a silent bird's-eye view, cross-cutting that provides ironic commentary and his pitch-black culminating inversion of The Family Friend's opening) and his all-permeating taste for the cool. We might also see his post-modern qualities in his engagement with the mafia generic tradition and finally his signposting of national cinematic traditions - and particularly his relationship to Antonioni, not only in his adoption of that director's erotic subject matter twined to matters of commerce (The Consequences of Love refracts the master's L'eclisse, 1962) but also in the cranes that loom over the post-industrial landscape. The Consequences of Love, like The Family of Friend, is a work that responds and indeed even adds to the tradition of the Italian cinema. There is more than a glimmer of hope here.
Both The Consequences of Love and The Family Friend are available on Artificial Eye Region 2 DVDs.