2014年9月23日 星期二

In grazio di Dio (Quiet Bliss) (美麗角的女兒)

When everything is going well, people just live the way they have always been living. Only when there is a crisis will their true character emerge. Adele (Celeste Casciaro) is living with her husband Crocifisso (Antonio Carlusccio), the proprietor of a family type fashion workshop, Maria Concetta (Barbara De Matteis), her rather oversized sister who studied drama at the university and who dreams of becoming an actress and whose only successful part so far seems some crappy religious drama for the small church, Ina (Laura Licchetta) her teenage daughter who has twice failed in her high school class and is on the verge of being kicked out and whose only interest in life seems to be sleeping around with the local boys one of whom gets her pregnant and Salvatrice (Anna Boccadamo), Adele's mother, a traditional rosary saying old lady whose sole concern seems to keep the family together, with the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As the film opens, we see all the family except Ina working hard at the workshop but Crucifisso got a possible big order which will save their workshop, subcontracting sewing work for some Milanese haute couture houses on the verge of closing down because of competition from China but the offer was abruptly turned down because Adele thought the price not worth bothering about. Crucifisso recklessly joined his brother Vito's (Amerigo Russoh) foolhardy and botched plan to do some drug smuggling with a stolen boat which got stranded at sea before arriving at some unknown destination and he got a jail term after which he left to join a relative in Switzerland with their two school aged sons and Adele was forced to sell their family home at a considerable loss to pay off the outstanding debt. The family of 4 women then left town to an abandoned family farm nearbyat the edge of the Adriatic Sea which they prompted got into working conditions, living off the land selling chickens, eggs, vegetables fruit etc. 
The film is mini study of domestic clashes that could arise from the different personalities and their respective temperaments, personalities, preferences and life goals: Adele is hard, realistic, direct, opinionated, self-centred and caustic; Maria is the opposite, never prepared to accept that there is little chance of her dream of becoming an actress being realized and spends her time rehearsing lines whenever she got a spare moment; Ina is lazy and mindless teenager intent only on having a good time with the boys who dreams of living in a big mansion one, waking up late and having nothing to do but fussing over how she would be spending her day but is otherwise a good natured slut; Salvatrice appears the only lovable character, calm, quiet, wise, kind hearted, always having the best interest of the other before herself, with an invincible faith that God and the Holy Mother will always help her find a way out of the difficulties of the family and whose highest ambition in life is to keep them together. On the surface, it's the hot tempered, egoistic and adder-tongued Adele who keeps the family financially and physically together but in reality, the emotional heart of the family is humble and inconspicuous Salvatrice. When the Adele got too abusive, it's always Salvatrice who firmly tell her that enough is enough.

How does the director Edoardo Winspeare try to convey what he wishes to put across? By showing us an almost non-stop series of high pitched diatribes emitting from orifice of the much stressed Adele, the way she was inadvertently the cause of her own misery and the misery she caused her family because of her wilful refusal to bow to reality, her stubborn desire not to be seen as "weak" and be "influenced" by other's opinions and to care for nothing except her own feelings eg. the friendly advice or professional advice of the bank official, the consultant at Equitalia (an agency specializing on helping civilians in protesting their tax assessment or penalties), the estate estate who told her to sell her farm at a price which will not only eliminate all her debts to the bank, the inland revenue, buy another nice big house in town and with sufficient to spare for a comfortable life, the way she takes a snakes to scare her sister and her daughter and to have some mindlesss fun at their expense, her sudden impulse to steal all her daughter's jewellery and sell so that she could buy an expensive dress and have a meal at a restaurant but dining, all alone when she could very well have done so with Stefano (Gustavo Caputo), her shy old high school classmate who now works at the Inland Revenue who is kind enough to give Ina some free private tuition to raise her level where she could write some good poetry and have some understanding of the philosophy of Kierkegaard simply because he enjoys her company; the way she "forgets" her promise to drive Maria to the train station so that she could attend the long coveted audition with a famous Italian film director Ozpotek in Rome and forgets her prior appointment with Stefano. She  antagonizes everyone who is or who tries to be close to her. When Ina got into trouble, she turns not to Adele but to Stefano and she prefers to confide her personal feelings to Vito instead of to her mother. When Adele precipitates a family crisis, it is always Salvatrice who saves the family. The film ends dramatically with Ina being beaten up by her boyfriend on the wedding day of Salvatrice with Cosimmo (Angelino Ferrarese) a 65-year-old farmer neighbor, when after the mixed feelings, all 4 women gathered around the battered face of Ina on a sofa, hugging and gentling caressing the victim.

The acting by Celeste Casciaro as the strong-willed and toxic-tongued Adele seems a bit overdone but Salvatrice fully conveys the quiet attraction of her soothing charm which seems never to age, tolerant, protective, nurturing, like a kind of guardian angel sent by the Holy Virgin to ensure that whatever crisis, economic or emotional may happen, the family stays together. I also like Gustavo Caputo, who is a model of the shy bureaucrat looking after his 90-year-old mother and later in the film the quasi-incorrigible Ina. The way the story line could certainly use a little more tightening and restraint here and there but  bleak beauty of Lecce offers a measure of compensation to the constant assault upon our ears from the almost continuous stream of invectives emanating from Adele. I like especially the restrained notes from classical guitar by Marco Ciorba, foley artist and Giuseppe D'Amato, sound designer, which seems the only "quiet bliss" mentioned film's title one experiences in the darkness of the cinema. I'm quite sure that the English subtitle "Quiet Bliss" must be meant as an attempt at black humor. The Italian title (In grazia di Dio) which I believe translates literally into " By the grace of God", certainly seems much more straightforward but I'm at a loss as to the film's Chinese title, which appears neither here nor there.