LA RAGAZZA DEL LAGO directed by Andrea Molaioli (Italy, 2007)

I’ve been living in Italy for over sixteen years now , and I love movies, but I still wouldn’t count myself as an expert of Italian contemporary cinema.  On the contrary, I confess that, until fairly recently,  I had a snobbish, and blinkered attitude to the films produced in my adopted country.

I took the simplistic view that when Neorealism faded out and after Fellini died, Italian cinema fell into a terminal decline. I based this on the fact that the comedies struck me as examples of crude slapstick while dramas or other ‘serious’ movies seemed like poor imitations of American films.

This broad and inaccurate generalisation counts as a form of blind prejudice and ,as with any form of bigotry, the holder of such views (i.e. me) ends up being the biggest loser.

The truth is that if you judge any country’s cultural production solely by what is popular or, in the case of movies, by what fares best at the box office, you gain only the most superficial of perspectives.

I am now trying to adopt a more open-minded attitude and one rule of thumb that has paid off so far is that any movie starring Toni Servillo is worth seeing.

Toni Servillo

Prior to La Ragazza del Lago, I’ve seen him in Gomorrah, Le consequenze dell’amore (The Consequences of Love), Il Divo and Gorbaciof; all of which impressed me and proved that he is one of those rare character actors who inhabits a part so fully, you forget he’s only acting.

In La Ragazza del Lago (The Girl by the Lake), based on a novel by Norwegian author Karin Fossum, he plays Commissario Giovanni Sanzio, a police inspector from the south of Italy with a dry wit and maverick qualities that are not a million miles away from those of Commissario Montalbano. However, Sanzio is made of much sterner stuff than Andrea Camilleri’s fictional creation with a courteous yet direct manner that makes it plain that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

Taking its cues from the novel, the film has a very Nordic look and feel even though it was shot in and around the lake of Fusine in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of North-Eastern Italy.

The case Sanzio/Servillo is investigating is the mysterious death of an attractive young woman found naked by the side of a lake. The plot thickens when the post-mortem reveals that she was a virgin and that, although she was drowned, there are no signs of a struggle.

The story cleverly interweaves police procedural with themes relating to mental and physical illness. Insights into the latter help solve the murder as well as giving a deeper insight into Sanzio’s private life as the father of a stroppy teenage daughter and husband of a wife suffering from the early onset of  dementia.

The movie  is tightly directed by Andrea Molaioli and makes for a very impressive debut that shows he learnt a lot as assistant to Nanni Moretti.

His follow-up film is Il Gioiellino  which was released in 2011. I haven’t seen this yet but as it also stars Toni Servillo, there’s no doubt I’ll be checking it at the earliest opportunity.