Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Girl by the Lake (2007)

It was a weekend well spent for me for having watched yet another hidden Italian gem that is “The Girl by the Lake”.

Toni Servillo stars in this intriguing whodunit set in a picturesque, quiet little mountain village somewhere in Italy. The film opens with great promise of a finely crafted film, as we see a little girl named Marta walk down the road in her neighbourhood exchanging sweet hellos, when she is stopped midway by a man in a truck whom she calls Mario and seems to know well. What he says isn’t audible to us, but she accompanies him in his truck and he drives away.

But there are other things happening elsewhere in this little obscure place that is sparsely populated and everyone seems to know every other person! So it is no surprise that everyone knows a beautiful girl in her late teens who turns up dead by the nearby lake. She is left there naked by her killer, but strangely enough there isn’t much evidence of physical abuse on her body and she seems to have died of strangulation. Inspector Sanzio (Toni Servillo) starts pursuing the case with the assistance of his loyal fellow officers Alfredo and Lorenzo Siboldi. As he begins unearthing evidence based on his clues and starts rounding up suspects who all happen to be locals and those who have seen Anna alive not more than a few hours before her death, we also learn that the Inspector is dealing with some personal problems of his own. Battling his own personal demons, the inspector begins to realize that every one of his suspects has a secret which may or may not be directly related to Anna’s death…

The Girl in the Lake” is surprisingly overlooked, possibly because it had limited release outside of the Italy and only recently was released on DVD in the US by IFC Entertainment. It is a neatly made film and ensures it doesn’t stray from its focal point, even though the proceedings are a tad slow. It steers clear of cheap gimmicks and instead relies on intricate characterization, slowly introducing us and getting us acquainted with all the individuals that Anna interacted with. Like any standard mystery, of course, there are red herrings, but not to the extent of seeming forced. The cinematography is spectacular as the camera pans and lingers on some of the most amazing locations you may have seen. Everything is so beautiful and cut away from the rest of the world, it will make you wanna go there on a weekend getaway trip! Adding to the merits of the fantastic camerawork is the fact that even the most ordinary scenes seem out of the ordinary as they are shot in a way as to please the viewer’s eye! The film also avoids the use of gratuitous gruesomeness in the form of excess violence or nudity. In fact this is a surprisingly clean film as far as such ‘visual’ devices in a murder mystery are concerned. 
The performances are all genuine and convincing, but of course, one that stands out belongs to Toni Servillo as he impresses yet again with a brilliant act after his “The Consequences of Love” which I saw last. Also watch out for an interesting cameo by Valeria Golino (“Hot Shots!”, "Rain Man").

For first time director, Andrea Molaioli, “The Girl by the Lake” is quite a commendable debut, even if the conclusion may seem a tad underwhelming to some. I, on the other hand was quite impressed as it took me entirely by surprise and I couldn’t help but think how well it distances itself from the usual conclusions that most films of the genre typically resort to!

For all its worth, “The Girl by the Lake” definitely deserves to be seen and is worth the time invested, rest assured!

Score: 8/10.

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