Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mar Nero (Film Kairòs, Rai Cinema, HiFilm, 2008)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film Charles and I saw last night was Mar Nero, literally “Black Sea,” an Italian/Romanian co-production (the version we saw, at the San Diego Italian Film Festival, was in Italian, but apparently immediately after making the Italian version director Federico Bondi, who also co-wrote the script with Cosimo Calomini and Ugo Chiti, did a dubbed version in Romanian) from 2008 co-produced by the Italian state broadcasting company RAI with Film Kairòs and Hi Film. (When I saw the last-named company I did a Mystery Science Theatre 3000-style joke: I leaned over to Charles and whispered, “Hi, film!,” and made a waving motion.) When I saw from its page that it was about the relationship between a young woman — undocumented Romanian immigrant Angela (Doroteea Petre) — and the older, crotchety woman she’s hired to take care of, Gemma Pratesi (Iliara Occhini), as a man who’s made his living as a caregiver to a disabled man for over 20 years I thought watching this film would be a busman’s holiday.

Nonetheless, we went, and Mar Nero turned out to be an uneven but still interesting movie whose main problem is that the scenes between Gemma and Angela — showcasing Gemma’s initial distrust and petty meanness turning into trust and something resembling affection — are so much more powerful than the rest of the movie that the rest of the movie seems downright boring by comparison. At the beginning we see Angela making her way across the titular “black sea,” a slang term for the stretch of the Mediterranean between Italy and Romania (as Charles joked after we saw the film, the Italians seem to regard the Romanians much the way many Americans living in border regions like San Diego regard Mexicans — at one point one of the other characters even threatens to report Angela to the authorities as undocumented and have her deported!), where she’s getting away from a problematic relationship with Adrian (Vlad Ivanov), whom lists as her husband but who seemed to me to be just her boyfriend. At one point she goes to a New Year’s party, one of her rare opportunities while in Italy to be around people her own age, and there are a couple of nice pop-rock songs being played there by a band blessedly no better than one would expect from a group playing a seedy gig like this. Mar Nero is one of those movies in which nothing much happens — the intent of Bondi and his collaborators was clearly to give us a sort of neo-neorealism, a slice-of-life movie that doesn’t really build to a big climax until the very end, when Angela goes back to Romania and finds Adrian living with another woman.

I liked it and found the scenes between the caregiver and her client rang true — though Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her is still the best movie I’ve seen about the peculiarly intimate relationship between a caregiver and the person they take care of (though in that case it was complicated by the fact that there were two caregivers and two patients, the caregivers were both male, the patients were both female, both women were comatose and one was her caregiver’s ex-lover while the other was the object of a crush from the caregiver), this one is quite good and moving. It’s just that when we get away from Angela’s relationship with Gemma and the marvelously depicted tension between them, the movie turns flat and pretty dull and the matter-of-fact directorial and scripting style becomes too matter of fact to move. Still, given that the history of U.S. movies these days — especially the mainstream blockbuster entertainments — is for more thrills, more spectacle and an acute disinterest, verging on active distaste, for character motivation or any real emotion, it’s hard to fault a movie that tries to depict the real feelings of real-seeming people and, at least in the interchanges between its two central characters, actually succeeds.