Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 27, 2018 11:46 pm 
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A gentle giant of a "a rough authentic heroic fragility"*

Forty-four-year-old documentary filmmaker, musician and a photographer Dino Albertini has made a strong, austere first feature in a neorealist, vérité style focused on a preternaturally grownup 18-year-old released from a foster care center, Manuel (assured newcomer Andrea Latanzi, who carries the film with firm conviction and a cool, focused intensity). Manuel must go to live in his mother's flat and establish his credibility as a responsible adult there so his mother Veronica (Francesca Antonelli), who is in prison, may be released to house arrest. The film moves with a sharp, harsh rhythm in the cutting by editor Sarah McTeigue. The music is mostly the cry of voices, the distant sound of trains. The tall Latanzi is a lithe young everyman of heroic composure. He grouses to the foster home supervisors and the opening shows the no-nonsense life there, but also the warmth. A gardener is a former inmate who never left who says a sweet goodbye, and the lay brother who takes him to the station jumps out to hug him.

Albertini interpolates a vivid interlude before Manuel gets to the apartment. There's no train, it's suspended for hours due to an accident. In the interim Manuel helps a mute, impoverished man with his motor-cart and gets a ride to his tiny dwelling, where a pretty young woman comes who provides her own social services to him. She is an actress preparing an audition and later Manuel helps her rehearse lines from Truffaut's Stolen Kisses. It is if she is seducing him. But Manuel is not to be distracted from his goal, and bam! we're on the train, which takes him to a trio of grim high-rises like the Paris banlieu. This is where he's going to live. He has to track down the manager at a tango class. The place is by the shoreline, but you can't see the water from the little flat, which is a total wreck. He must begin by gathering up and throwing out.

When Manuel has gotten the job, braved various temptations and opportunities any 18-year-old boy would welcome, when the social worker has examined him and the flat and the hearing for his mother with the lawyer has been endured and the house arrest release has been guaranteed in one week's time, and Manuel is on his way back to the flat, he can finally have a panic attack and break down in uncontrollable sobs. He has accomplished the impossible and he will go on to face the difficult and unlikely with stoicism. It's a virtuoso performance by the young Latanzi, but it feels like living, not acting and Albertini's austere style has never seemed showing and always served the action. Hardly a fun watch, but an impressive film that promises a one-person neorealist revival by this very serious and committed filmmaker.

With Latanzi in the cast are Francesca Antonelli, Giulia Elettra Gorietti, and Renato Scarpa. The screenplay is by Albertini with Simone Ranucci; the cinematographer is Giuseppe Maio. Albertini began with a documentary, La Repubblica dei Ragazzi, about the development of a group foster home, the one we see in the opening minutes, based on months of careful observation.

Manuel, 97 mins., debuted at Venice (see Albertini's note written then), and was a triple winner at the Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival (Best Film, Critics' Prize, and Student Jury Prize). After a positive reception in the Rencontres Cinématographiques section at Cannes, it opened theatrically in Paris with the title Il filglio, Manuel 7 Mar. 2018 and was extensively reviewed with moderately positive results (AlloCiné 3.5). French critics praised Latanzi's "superb" interpretation which gave the whole, despite its unsurprising trajectory, "a powerful emotional density." L'Humanité noted that "Pathos is eschewed throughout, the extraneous eliminated," the filmmaker's documentary experience contributing to his "confidence in the power of the real." Cahiers du Cinéma foresaw a "positive future for its maker," and Les Inrockuptibles called Manuel "A 'popular' film in the best sense, i.e. one that sees its characters of the people, free-standing and upright in their dignity." The French can understand this film's style. It evokes the Dardennes, even Bresson. It also refers explicitly to Truffaut and it's been said Latanzi/Manuel is Albertino's Antoine Doinel. But this is nonetheless a film that, like the looks of its astonishing young star, is deeply Italian.

Manuel was screened for this review as part of the 2018 San Franisco New Italian Cinema series, where it shows Sun. 2 Dec. at 12 p.m.
*"Una ruvida eroica autentica fragilità" (Fabrizio Tassi, Cineforum).

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