This year's Lavazza Italian Film Festival boasts an impressive group of films, with Euphoria seeing its Australian premiere.
Directed by Valeria Golino (film buffs will recognise her name, playing Susannah in Rainman and a barfly in Leaving Las Vegas), Euphoria weaves a tale of two brothers; Matteo, successful in his career but living a superficial, narcissistic existence , and Ettore, the elder brother with a failed marriage and a brain tumour.
The film opens to a decadent few minutes introducing Matteo, then shows him in a more mundane setting. Matteo is a man who clearly is used to different people fulfilling different parts of his life. Awkwardly showering his brother with generosity does little to comfort Ettore, and their relationship seems doomed.
The film pulses with the highs and lows of their return to each other's lives; tenderness and empathy are contrasted with violence and sexualised contempt.
Director Valeria Golino's world is an interesting one; her eye sees so much colour, but the colour doesn't seep into her characters. Her characters don't seem to be overly passionate or larger than life, they simply are. Matteo and Ettore talk of life and death, but don't stop their destructive habits or bellow their views from a mountain top. Golino seems to be saying that life is complex and nothing can be learned or experienced in isolation. The film, as a result, is so matter-of-fact, quick and quiet - just like real life, you have to pay attention and reflect on what's really not being said, which thoughts are being hidden behind expressionless faces. There's lot of tight close-ups, free-motion camera and no background music (to start with) - all of which make for believable scenes.
Even though it's a relatively straightforward film, you are quickly drawn in and invested in the characters. The ending certainly affected me, and I was glad that the film finished how and when it did.
Riccardo Scamarcio (Matteo) is the film's standout performance, showing a depth of acting as the anti-hero that is truly impressive. Scamarcio has had a busy year filming; his earlier work in the two-part epic Lora received high praise at Cannes and is on track to be nominated at the Academy Awards.
Valerio Mastandrea (Ettore) plays the other lovable/contemptible brother, this one too much of a thinker as opposed to his baby brother who often doesn't think. Mastandrea works well in this role, yet I wonder whether he could have brought more depths to it.
After I'd finished watching this story of two brothers connecting meaningfully for the first time in their lives, I thought of director Golino's role in Rainman and wondered whether Matteo was a kind of reimagining of Charlie Babbit. Funnily enough, both films have a scene towards the end where the brothers dance together.
It's a strong film overall and I'm glad to have seen it. Take the time to see a standout from this year's festival.