GLI EQUILIBRISTI directed by Ivano De Matteo (Italy, 2012)
This movie was recently presented at Venice Film Festival and is an honest, compassionate and mildly depressing portrait of a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
The American Heritage dictionary defines an ‘equilibrist’ as “a person who performs feats of balance, such as tightrope walking”.
The movie title gives the plural form but there is really only one man (Giulio) walking the line. He is the 40-year-old husband who cheats on his wife although he is no serial philanderer.
So far as we know, he is guilty of just one lapse – a quick screw in the filing room at the local government offices where he works. For this moment of weakness, he pays dearly, both financially and psychologically.
His wife discovers incriminating text messages on his mobile phone and is in no mood to forgive and forget despite that fact that he a loving father to their two children. His daughter is a teenage punkette while his son is an angelic pre-teen.
Giulio is not a bad man and his wife is not a malicious woman. When he moves out, the couple start the process of a legal separation in a calm, civilised manner. She has the security of a home and a good job while Giulio quickly discovers that his life has no such safety nets.
His job is secure but the salary is not enough to cover family maintenance and pay for accommodation. He looks for a second job, but this cash in hand manual work is exhausting and unstable. He ends up sleeping in his car and entering a downward spiral of depression and hopelessness. The welfare system can offer only modest support.
Valerio Mastandrea gives a moving and highly believable performance as a man living a nightmare as his once stable and conventional life spirals out of control. We see him desperately trying to keep his head above water but sinking fast.
While the movie doesn’t seek to bang the drum for organisations like Fathers 4 Justice, it does show that when marriages collapse it is sometimes the man who ends up as the victim.
A major flaw is that the director contrives to give a hint at a happy ending which is completely at odds with the bleak tone of the rest of the movie. The truth is that , in stories like this, when the shit hits the fan things get messy and more often than not stay that way.