Saturday, December 27, 2014

Viva La Liberta

It happens every so often where I just can't figure out ratings. I get, for example, that most people don't like black comedy and so I hold films like Drop Dead Gorgeous and Very Bad Things in much higher esteem than most. And it's usually not a problem to figure out the critic/audience split, since critics and audiences have differences—usually well known and stereotype-reinforcing differences.

Viva La Liberta is a puzzler then.

It gets a thumbs down from critics but a fairly strong thumbs up from audiences. The disparity is wider than the Oscar-winning La Grand Belleza, and flipped, with audiences being warm while critics went ga-ga. (That one I understand.)

I don't know. Maybe it's a political thing. Everyone in Europe's a socialist, but some are more socialist than others, I guess.

Viva La Liberta is the "Prince and the Pauper", or perhaps Dave, updated for modern times as Tom Servilio (the lead in Bellezza) plays an Italian MP, the leader of the "opposition party" which is flagging and not living up to its early ambitions. On the verge of a complete rout, the MP vanishes leaving only a note that he'll be back.

Desperate for damage control, the political operatives end up seeking out the MP's crazy twin brother, who is a philosopher/poet/nut who speaks his mind and has plenty of practice imitating his brother.

Naturally, he's a wild success, managing to turn a losing campaign into a winning one, just by being honest and enthusiastic. This lovely (and well-worn) narrative conceit suffers a bit when you realize that Crazy Bro isn't really saying anything substantive when he talks.

But what are you going to do? If he said something substantive, he'd doubtless end up alienating some portion of the audience. And it's not really the point. The story is really about the two brothers and their journey.

Well, sort of, and perhaps this is the somewhat weak part: The crazy brother is more of  a plot device than a character. He's a sort of Italian paragon, a lover of poetry and romance and emotion, and he's also crazy—or at least the world views him that way. The movie implies heavily that he's the sane one in a world gone mad.

The MP brother finds himself in a completely different life which is at least as agreeable as his former life, though much simpler. A backstory involving the twins and an old girlfriend is hinted at, a story that ended badly and split the three apart decades ago.

By the end, the movie even begins to play fast-and-loose with the whole twins thing. I mean, the closing scene teases heavily as to who is who, and even whether there were two of these guys at all. That's probably a bit of a reach, but the end is a definite tease.

The Boy and I really enjoyed it, though are expectations were somewhat lowered by the harsh reviews. It was light and cute, funny and sweet, and not really as dark or cynical as a movie like this might be expected to be. (Could that be why the critics didn't like it?)

And, if nothing else, Toni Servilio is just a great actor.

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