Sunday, May 12, 2013

Don't Tell (La Bestia Nel Cuore) (2005)

Cristina Comencini's "Don’t Tell" (2005) (aka "The Beast in the Heart" aka "La bestia nel cuore") was nominated for an Oscar at the 78th Academy awards! One wonders if there were very few quality films made that year, what with Paul Haggis' strictly average "Crash" (2005) being named the "Best Picture"! This isn't to say "Don’t Tell" is awful, but it certainly is not worthy of appearing in the final five shortlist. Cristina Comencini who also wrote the screenplay based on her own novel probably got a little confused on what to include in the film version and what not to.

Sabina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) is a dubbing artist for movies, while her boyfriend Franco (Alessio Boni) is a struggling actor who would rather do serious stuff like theater or good films, but is forced to act in a very cheesy TV show. Sabina is haunted by nightmares of something bad happening to her when she was a child; perhaps sexual abuse at the hands of her father! Only she has no real memory of her childhood and sometimes her best friend, a blind lesbian Emilia (Stefania Rocca) tells her stories of the old days, but they all seem to indicate that hers was a normal childhood. In an attempt to seek more answers to such deviant nightmares, Sabina decides to take leave for a considerable while to visit her estranged older brother Daniele (Luigi Lo Cascio), now a professor in a university in the USA. Daniele is happily married to an American woman Anne (Lucy Akhurst) and is blessed with two sons. In the end several answers are provided, which don’t come across as very earth shattering, thanks to a clear lack of focus on the storytelling and an unnecessary digression into territories that are meaningless as far as the context of the film is concerned!

Almost for the entire first hour and more, it is somewhat difficult to put your finger on the actual plot of Comencini's sorrowful tale. The supporting characters seem to divert our attention to them with their subplots that are sometimes interesting but not at the cost of losing our way from the primary story that seems to be Sabina's! There's a whole lot of different angles as to the feelings and emotions of the multitude of characters. This includes Emilia's secret (?) attraction to her closest friend Sabina. One wonders if perhaps she is as close as she is to Sabina out of her romantic attraction for her! Then there's Sabina's older colleague Maria (Angela Finocchiaro) whose 50-something husband dumps her for a young girl who happens to be Maria's daughter's friend, no less! Not to mention, Franco's associations from his TV show shooting, the comely Anita (Francesca Inaudi) who, not surprisingly, falls for Franco and the comical director Negri (Giuseppe Battiston) who strikes an instant friendship with Franco!

Comencini goofs up spending way too much time on the events in the lives of these supporting characters so much so that one feels there's  a connection to the main thread of the story, but sadly there isn't! In an entirely unnecessary subplot, Emilia and the bi-curious Maria get involved with each other in a romantic affair that seems very hollow and superficial to begin with, thanks to Maria’s character providing a lot of comic relief, and rendering her feelings for Emilia far from genuine. Also unnecessary and rather predictable is how Franco gets seduced by the visibly attractive Anita, despite his immense love for Sabina. It all eventually leads us to a rather contrived climax that takes place after a substantial time leap when all relationships portrayed thus far somehow attain a closure; or do they!?

What is especially tepid is the manner in which some important revelations are made during Sabina’s visit to Daniele's place. In a spectacularly acted but slightly melodramatic scene, Daniele pours his heart out to Sabina about what really happened when they were kids. The final conclusion to Daniele’s story ends up like a fizzled out firecracker when it should actually hit us and have a cathartic effect. This, coupled with some more comical scenes towards the end, juxtaposed against a visibly disturbing climactic scene in a train compartment, tend to leave the viewer slightly unaffected due to the rather trivial and non-serious handling. Comencini's central plot had potential and a little more serious cinematic handling of the material could've given "Don’t Tell" an edge and an intensity that it lacks for the kind of subject it deals with. Blame it on the storytelling but we simply fail to connect with the characters as much as we actually should in this kind of a film.

However, Comencini almost gets it right in constructing a watchable film, that nevertheless manages to hold our attention thanks to some fine moments of drama, even if as an overall product, the film fails to achieve its goals and puts up a façade of profundity. "Don’t Tell" also boasts of some remarkably convincing performances. The best performance, hands down, belongs to Giovanna Mezzogiorno with her uninhibited, genuine display of emotions. Also remarkable is Stefania Rocca's blind act as well as Angela Finocchiaro's performance with a touch of humour. Luigi Lo Cascio makes a strong impression in his brief appearance as well.

A noteworthy aspect that stands out is the filming of the silent dream sequences in which we can see the actors move their lips but cannot hear dialog; perhaps an indicator of them being distant, fading, or unclear memories. These scenes and the startlingly surreal visions Sabina has during the aforementioned train compartment sequence are well executed. If only this consistency was retained in the rest of the narrative, "Don’t Tell" would be a much better film. Someone like Pedro Almodovar who has a knack for telling stories laced with soap operatic elements would've done a significantly better job. But in Comencini's hands, the film, despite a powerful central theme, while trying to be disturbing and ambitious, ends up looking like a mini soap opera, replete with mawkish sentimentality and a fake schmaltzy background score to top it up ! A fairly engaging mini soap opera at that, but nothing more.

Score: 7/10

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