LA CITTÀ IDEALE directed by Luigi Lo Cascio  (Italy, 2012)

la città idealeLuigi Lo Cascio wrote, directed and stars in this ambitious and thought-provoking movie. He plays Michel Grassadonia, an earnest architect committed to leaving only the faintest of ecological footprints.

For instance, he conducts experiments to live without electricity and uses rain water to shower.  He also has a holier than thou attitude to those who breach the civic rules – photographing those who smoke in public buildings and reprimanding those who drop litter.

As a model citizen, he is last person you would expect to fall foul of the law, yet through a Kafkaesque series of incidents he is plunged into a complex legal process which he mistakenly thinks he can overturn by simply telling the truth.

The story centres on what happens when he finds a man lying unconscious in the road and stops to help. Grassadonia’s environmental sensibilities mean that he is not a car owner and is only driving in the first place as a favour to a work colleague. As the car  has a dent in the side from a previous collision, the police suspect that he may have knocked the man down.

A lawyer appointed to his case advises him to remain silent during an interview but this is not part of his character. He’s a man who naively believes that honesty will always win the day. The more he tries to convince his inquisitors of his innocence, the more he looks like a guilty man telling lies.

The directorial debut by Lo Cascio clearly owes much to his theatrical background and you can imagine this tense drama working just as effectively on stage. Almost all the action takes place indoors which means that, cinematically, it has a claustrophobic quality that reminded me of Hitchcock.

As the film progresses, it loses this edge of tension as the plot shifts to focus more on the philosophical and moral issues raised.

It is fascinating to reflect on how the legal system intrinsically favours those who are economical with the truth but as a movie it would have benefitted from a few more twists and turns in the plot.

The film opened the one week festival in Cesena  – Piazze di Cinema – and is one of six new Italian movies in competition for the Monty Banks prize.  Lo Cascio was present at the screening to talk about some of the issues raised by the movie. Rather than being the slightly self-righteous character he plays, he impresses the audience by being down to earth and open during a Q & A session at the end. He says he just set out to make an honest film and he certainly succeeded in doing that.