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FABIO MARTINA: HERE AND NOW/L'ASSOLUTO PRESENTE (2017) - New Italian Cinema

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YURI CASAGRANDE, CLAUDIA VERONESI, AND GIL GIULIANI IN HERE AND NOW

Thrill seeking youths in the cold city

In a film inspired by a news story from Verona in 2004, three young friends aged twenty drive through the dark streets of Milan in a new black SUV. Full of aspirational bravura, the driver of the vehicle suddenly stops near a park where he and his pals attack an innocent person they met earlier in the day in a frenzy of blows and imagined power. Nothing is so evident as the young men's lack of affect or purpose. Here and Now has been called "a modern-day I Vitelloni on steroids." It is a portrait of youth without purpose, seeking meaning in random violence.

Here and Now achieves some moments of genuine edge and shock unusual in contemporary Italian cinema, though it's overall effect remains rather patchy. The three youths are Cosimo, or Cosimino as his friends call him (Yuri Casagrande), Riccardino (Claudia Veronesi - i.e., he is played by a she) and Giovanni (Gil Giuliani). Cosimino is a would-be tough guy. He has a rich, powerful father, he has a shaved head, he has the expensive black SUV his rich and powerful father (whom he gets on well with) has just given him, and he has the desire to make trouble. When he first appears he is working out with weights. Then he gets the SUV. He seems energetic, threatening, and dangerous, except that there is a smile that plays about his face much of the time that softens it. For a while he meets up with an older brother, who makes a lot of noise and kisses and embraces him. Riccardino is giggly, almost hysterical. Giovanni is depressed.

It is Giovanni who is given the lengthiest segment by himself, an episode that may be more metaphorical than real. Giovanni is the son of a famous photographer. We learn that when he takes a train to visit an institute of photography where he is looking for admission. He rides with a plump, unprepossessing young man, also with a portfolio, also going to the photography institute, who is totally awed to learn who Giovanni's father is. This harmless young man goes to the bathroom and leaves his portfolio with Giovanni for safe-keeping. Giovanni takes the photos, rips them up, and throws them out the window. When Giovanni gets to his interview, the official dismisses the photos he shows as technically accomplished, but unimaginative, lacking in individuality. This seems to fulfill Giovanni's own expectations to the hilt.

In fact, when Giovanni is with Cosimino and Riccardino in the SUV, they mock Giovanni for his passivity. He never does anything but take photos, they say. But is that a criticism? isn't that what a photographer does? Is Giovanni's flaw that he is passive, or that he is a photographer? Everything involving Giovanni is one-note and over-written.

Another sequence shows Cosimino showing his two pals the spacious empty floor of a new building, which he says will become his office. Here is a moment when, in fact, they take a step away from the "here and now" and look to the future. Cosimino seems to have a promising future guaranteed to him, while Giovanni will presumably only go on being depressed and Riccardino, from what Cosimino mockingly tells him, will just be an underling sent out for coffee.

Throughout, the film emphasizes new skyscrapers when it shows the skyline of Milan, which in Fabio Martina's vision becomes no different from any modern city, in Australia, perhaps, instead of the old, elegant Italian center of economics and fashion. Perhaps this film would feel more authentic if shot in South America. Why should Milan be turned into a generic city?

Cosimino and Riccardino seem to share a giddiness, except that Riccardino seems (not surprisingly, since he is played by a female) effeminate, and borderline hysterical, while Cosimino at least wants to seem macho. But this is a film that ultimately seems itself giddy and excited, and not ultimately sure where it wants to be going. An editorial essay on the film on the website CameraLook cites the philosopher Umberto Galimberti as the source of the title, and attributes to him the statement that today's youth fear the uncertainty of the future and hence escape into an "absolute present." CameraLook links the film with the void we encounter in Antonioni's L'Avventura and Rossellini's Germania anno zero. It sees similarities in Gus Van Sant's Elephant. All this may be true, but that doesn't make Martina's Here and Now cohere in its own "here and now."

Here and Now/L'Assoluto presente, 90 mins., debuted in Italy in Dec. 2017. It was screened for this review as part of the 2018 San Francisco New Italian Cinema series, where it shows Sat. 1 Dec. at 1:30 p.m.

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