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Holding Breath for Romance

MOVIE REVIEW
Giulia Doesn't Date at Night (2009)

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Donatello Brogioni/
The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Italian director Giuseppe Picconi’s latest picture is a touching, wonderfully understated tale of boredom, love, deception and ultimately tragedy. It’s a well observed and beautifully shot film that benefits from some fine central performances and — despite its inherently solemn tone — is a fascinating and thoroughly compelling watch.

Trapped in a loveless marriage and lacking the drive and inspiration for his next book, author Guido Montani (Valeri Mastandrea) is a self-deprecating, directionless soul. Despite being nominated for a literary prize (which he doesn’t seem to care about), Guido is constantly reminded that he’s an author whose books no one seems to finish because they all have tragic endings. Worse still, he’s got writer’s block, toying with tales of temptation and sin — themes which may well be a reflection of his own fractured persona. His wife wants to move into their newly-renovated house, a plunge he’s not quite ready to take; and he also has to endure his daughter’s relationship with the geeky yet eloquent Filippo (Jacopo Domenicucci). Guido seeks solace and meaning in the mysterious Giulia (Valeria Golino), his daughter’s swimming teacher at the local pool. But Giulia is hardened and emotionally distant. Secretly harboring a dark past, she looks to the pool as an escape.

Interestingly, Mr. Picconi teases the audience by interspersing Guido’s story with manifestations of his writing. This blurs the lines between reality and his imagination, suggesting that Giulia may well be one such manifestation. Ultimately, it’s unclear whether Guido writes what he lives or lives out what he writes; either way, it’s certainly an intriguing device. As the two bond, Guido seems to find some direction while Giulia clings onto a semblance of stability that she so desperately desires. With their relationship blossoming, Giulia confides in Guido by revealing her shocking past; and while he’s supportive, Giulia’s intrinsic unhappiness is obvious; and while it’s evident that their liaison is destined not to have a happy ending, Mr. Picconi’s denouement is as tragic as one of Guido’s novels.

Despite the somber conclusion, Mr. Picconi’s well-paced and measured direction is tonally pitch perfect, striking a fine balance between moody melodrama and tender romance. Equally successful are the two leads who both deliver excellent performances. Ms. Golino’s portrayal of Giulia is tinged with sadness and vulnerability which perfectly encapsulates Giulia’s fractured spirit, while Mr. Mastandrea subtly captures Guido’s lack of direction. Striking photography and a well-observed script ensure that “Giulia Doesn’t Date at Night” is a stunning film that deserves an audience.

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