Patrick concludes that this Italian drama has more of the essence of a histrionic serial than a well-proportioned domestic art house piece.
Content warning: Sexual assault
Nanni Moretti’s film Tre Piani is graced by brilliant direction, beautiful scenery, and fantastic acting. Unfortunately, none of these combined strengths are quite able to poultice its plot, which would be more suitable for a daytime soap opera.
The film is set in a stunning convent in Rome which has been converted into a three-floor apartment block, and tells the stories of its residents. The opening story focuses on Andrea, an unemployed drunkard who lives with his parents. One night, completely inebriated, he hits a local woman with his car, killing her instantly. The event tears the small family apart, and sets him on a Freudian battle against his father, with screaming matches and fisticuffs. It is accompanied by the story of Lucio, an obsessive father who becomes convinced that his seven-year-old daughter is being molested by the old man who lives next door. While investigating his neighbour, he falls in love with the possible perpetrator’s underage granddaughter, and he himself becomes the subject of a tense, lengthy statutory rape trial. The third story focuses on Monica, a young woman who fears that she has succumbed to her family’s history of mental instability after the birth of her first child. With her husband Giorgio frequently away on work trips, she is at a loss until she forms a bond with his estranged brother Roberto, a corrupt financier closely linked to the mafia.
The stories are intriguing, but each is in some way bizarre and unbelievable. Of course, there is nothing wrong with extreme, melodramatic plots. The films of Pedro Almodóvar, for example, take silly, telenovela-style stories, and transform them into gorgeous, hilarious works of art, which are clearly aware of how ridiculous they can be. But this film takes its narratives very seriously, never stopping to observe their distance from real life.
The stories also feel a little incomplete. Although they take place in the same building, they almost never interact, and one wonders whether they would work better as three separate films. Cutting between completely distinguished stories ultimately becomes a hindrance, and prevents the full development of the characters and narratives.
Moretti is one of the most well-respected directors in Italy today, making this plot all the more disappointing. While all his previous films were based on original ideas, this is instead based on a novel by Eshkol Nevo, perhaps explaining its shortcomings. He finds himself in new waters, struggling to swim. However, there is masterful direction in the film. In many ways, it is Moretti’s love letter to Rome, particularly the Prati district, and it offers gorgeous views of the historic capital. His directorial genius shines through in the locations he chooses, such as many windows facing modern and ancient architectural masterpieces.
The acting is also very laudable. Every actor does the best they can with the problematic script, and shows a genuine passion for their characters. The child actors are particularly brilliant, especially five-year-old Alice Adamu, who I can’t wait to see more of in the future.
As the film draws to a close, most of the conflicts are not properly resolved, but simply fizzle out of existence. Andrea has refused to speak to his parents for years, but suddenly changes his mind and accepts his mother into his life. After a decade of fear that his daughter has been traumatically abused, Lucio finally decides to simply ask her. Surprised by the accusation, she reassures him, and they continue with their life. Roberto vanishes from Monica and Giorgio’s life, and is never even mentioned again.
But these disappointing endings are followed by a brilliant, truly heart-warming moment. Having cast aside their old adventures, the characters prepare to move on, when they hear a commotion outside the apartment block. Going to investigate, they gather and discover a parade running through the area. Resting on a vehicle decorated with a seashell-like mosaic, the band play a beautiful milonga song composed for the film by Franco Piersanti. Beneath the sun shining through the trees, dancers trace exquisite moves. The black, red, and pink of their clothes form a scene not unlike an impressionist painting. Everything is alright on this sweet Roman summer day. It’s a glimpse of the artistic genius which has sadly been missing throughout the film.
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