Film Movement DVD Review: Days and Clouds (2007)

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Casting aside his more whimsical style established in the winning Bread and Tulips and in his uneven yet charming Italian romantic comedy/drama Agata and the Storm in favor of-- as director Silvio Soldini notes in the Film Movement press release-- "the story of a couple almost in documentary form," we get a painful glimpse through a cracked mirror at the effect the current global economic crisis can have on families.

His adherence to a docudrama style recalls the hand-held Danish Dogme movement and-- most pointedly-- the Cinema Verite approach of John Cassavetes in the '60s and '70s who sometimes stayed with characters (who seemed as though they could be our friends, family or neighbors) for so long that it almost became embarrassingly harrowing to witness them in their darkest moments.

Nominated for 15 David Di Donatello Awards or the equivalent of Italy's Oscars and deservedly garnering two statues for the leading ladies of the film-- actress Margherita Buy with whom all empathy resides throughout and supporting actress Alba Rohrwacher-- Days and Clouds does begin in earnest sophistication with a high gloss look at a well-to-do upper class Italian couple celebrating the recent graduation of middle-aged Elsa (Buy) from an art restoration and history program.

Now finished with her advanced degree and still busily working for free on restoring an old gorgeous location she feels may unearth the artwork of the subject of her dissertation, Elsa's night of singing, camaraderie with friends, and drunken revelry ends in a smashed bedside lamp she accidentally knocks over and then steps on the following morning.

The gash in her foot is just the beginning of a tremendous cut that will slice through her relationship as in the harsh light of day she's faced with the confession of her husband Michele (Antonio Albanese) that he has been out of work for two months-- manipulated out of the company he co-founded when he stuck to his principles and spoke out against outsourcing labor that resulted in the job loss of a number of his Italian employees.

Having made the decision to keep this secret so as not to upset the conclusion of his wife's dream study, the two face the fact that they must sell their home, his beloved boat (which had become his floating office as he'd hidden there during the day since he'd been forced out of work) and with the realization that their savings consists of roughly 21,000 euros.

Having planned an expensive trip to Cambodia, hiring servants, throwing lavish parties, and often treating friends to dinner-- it takes awhile for his masculine prideful deception to fully sink in until Elsa faces facts and makes an active attempt to find work. In doing so, the educated middle-aged woman finds employment in both a call center and as a night secretary, spending the rest of her day restoring art in between jobs as her husband struggles to cope, losing his grip on sanity with outrageous mood swings as he learns he's over-qualified for a number of jobs and then ends up starting a small impromptu handyman company with two men who used to work for him.

When those men find work and with his wife becoming the breadwinner as they're forced into a small apartment, Michele soon becomes despondent, barely making an effort, pushing loved ones away including his grown daughter Alice (Rohrwacher), and collapsing under the pressure he's facing as his wife tries to understand and move forward.

An important piece of filmmaking that's nonetheless a chore to get through since-- similar to the way the Oscar quality box office plummeted this season-- the last thing people want to watch during times of unprecedented hardship is a similar situation reflected onscreen. And likewise, while it's a highly intelligent offering-- anchored by the portrayal of Buy-- it's hard to generate much sympathy for the selfish, machismo, and egotistical Michele. Nor do we feel when there's so much suffering going on-- terribly moved by the fact that a wealthy couple must slum it for awhile and give up on a trip to Cambodia and a few servants while others live on food stamps or the dole.

Overall, it's an admirable effort with its heart in the right place, perhaps with a few adjustments Days and Clouds could have been the type of modern day Italian neorealist dramas with which more of the middle class or lower middle class could've related. And while the performances are tremendous, for Verite done right I think I'll stick with Cassavetes and choose my Soldini a la Bread and Tulips (at least for the time being).