Film Movement DVD Review: Garibaldi's Lovers (2012)

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Original Title: The Commander and The Stork

Because he focuses on the topic of relationships, writer/director Silvio Soldini has never run out of ideas for new feature film material. And given his instinctive understanding that by fixating on the complex, always evolving nature of human interactions – from familial dysfunction to happy accidents, missed connections, new friends and romantic love – Silvio Soldini has been able to write about everything.

Finding new ways of telling a relationship story with each passing year, the Italian filmmaker has produced one critically acclaimed award-winner after another – venturing into comedy, drama, whimsy, magical realism and even erotica to craft films full of enthusiasm, ideas and above all passion for his topics and characters.

His affection for the people that populate every frame of his work is infectious and his newest confection Garibaldi’s Lovers is a charming if overly ambitious – bordering on messy – celebration of a handful of overlooked outsiders whose lives begin to overlap in a number of interesting ways.

A well-intentioned people-mover filled with missed connections and unlikely new alliances a la his breakthrough U.S. film festival favorite Bread and Tulips, Garibaldi’s Lovers muddies up what could’ve been a wonderful, whimsical comedic tale of lonely people coming together with too many distractions from start to finish.

The greatest problem stems from an ineffective magical realism style framing device wherein the statues of historical figures (including the film’s eponymous Giuseppe Garibaldi) converse with one another complete with political digs and insider banter only those well-versed in Italian culture and history will get. Trying to milk this technique for satirical humor, the statues also evaluate the changes that exist in contemporary metropolitan Italy 150 years after the country’s unification.

Whereas that one device would be enough to make the film only slightly whimsical, Soldini indulges his creativity to the max, incorporating the existence of a ghost who drops by her old apartment for conversations in the middle of the night and a boy who speaks to and understands a stork. Needless to say, in Garibaldi’s Lovers, there are just way too many ideas at play before we even delve into the problems facing the main characters.

Essentially, the film tells the story of Leone, a hardworking widower and father of two who struggles to raise his increasingly independent son Elia (the aforementioned “stork whisperer”) and daughter who’s been publically humiliated after her boyfriend posted a sexually explicit video featuring her that he filmed without her knowledge.

Worried he’s doing everything wrong, Leone’s only solace comes from nightly “conversations” with the ghost of his deceased wife who shows up out-of-the-blue still wearing the same bathing suit that she’d had on when she perished after an ore accidentally whacked her on the head.

Desperately in need of moving on, Leone is surprised to discover the stirrings of romantic attraction to a hopelessly klutzy yet adorable, bespectacled, gifted young artist named Diana who’s been jilted out of rent money by a corrupt client whose shady dealings found him put behind bars before he could pay her.

Hired to paint a gaudy, over-the-top fresco in the office of the lawyer who’s taken on her case – it’s there Diana first crosses paths with Leone when he arrives to file suit against his daughter’s ex-boyfriend to get that video taken down from the internet.

Further connecting the two individuals – after getting caught shoplifting frozen frogs to feed his pet stork, Elia finds a far more politically subversive Tuesdays With Morrie like-minded friend in an elderly rebel who just so happens to be Diana’s landlord.

Unfortunately, as promising as the main plot is, the film is a tad too overly complex given the sheer number of supporting characters and subplots that are introduced but don’t have enough screen time to fully develop.

And while Garibaldi’s Lovers would have been infinitely better off without the titular framing device that Soldini culled from the Alain Tanner film Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, it’s nonetheless salvaged by a winning intersection of all of the major characters and plot-points in an inventive final act that finds Leone traveling to Switzerland to locate his son.

A bit of a letdown compared to Soldini’s vastly superior Bread and Tulips as well as his earlier Film Movement release Agata and the Storm, it’s still far more audience friendly than the depressingly angry family dysfunction drama Days and Clouds.

Working off a story idea he conceived with two previous collaborators, Doriana Leondeff and Marco Pettenello, Silvio Soldini’s newest release (which was originally titled The Commander and the Stork) has just been served up on Film Movement DVD and download for non-members after premiering last year as part of their DVD-of-the-Month-Club subscription.

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