Nanni Moretti has come to Cannes with this watchable and tautly structured soap-operatic ensemble movie about four families living in the same apartment building, adapted from the popular bestseller Three Floors Up by the Israeli author Eshkol Nevo, and transplanted from the original Tel Aviv setting to Rome.
There is an element of emollient sentimentality, especially in the way the plot lines are neatly tied up, but a good deal of storytelling gusto and ingenuity, and there are also echoes (perhaps deliberately engineered) of Moretti’s greatest film and Cannes Palme d’Or winner, The Son’s Room, from 2001.
Lucio (Riccardo Scamarcio) and Sara (Elena Lietti) are a stressed professional couple with an infant daughter for whom they often need a babysitter – so they are happy to leave her with the elderly couple next door: Giovanna (Anna Bonauito) and Renato (Paolo Graziosi). But Lucio is unnerved by Renato’s apparent slide into dementia, and his strange, borderline-inappropriate tactile relationship with Lucio’s little girl when they drop her off.
Nanni Moretti himself plays Vittorio, a judge and disciplinarian father to his errant son Andrea (Alessandro Sperdute) who has just killed a woman while drunk at the wheel of his car. To the horror of Andrea’s more forgiving mother Dora (Margherita Buy), Vittorio sternly refuses to pull any legal strings to get him a softer sentence and is almost gratified at the thought that jail is finally going to teach him a lesson.
And Alba Rohrwacher gives an excellent performance as Monica, a pregnant woman whose husband is away a lot on oil-rigs, and she has had to give birth alone because he couldn’t get back in time. Her loneliness is made much worse by post-natal depression and delusions – which are represented with scarily plausible simplicity.
The turning point of the drama, or melodrama, comes when Lucio becomes convinced that Renato has been abusing his daughter. So when Renato’s teenage granddaughter Charlotte (Denise Tantucci) comes around, with an obvious and very sexual crush on Lucio, he uses her in attempt to spy on Renato – and this intimacy goes too far, with catastrophic results.
It is a nauseous irony: Lucio suspects someone of abuse, and then he himself is accused of abuse. But oddly, the film itself behaves as if there is no parallel there, just another in the pile-up of terrible events.
As for Vittorio and Dora, there is a terrible, almost Old Testament severity in his response to Andrea’s wrongdoing (apparently part of a longstanding pattern of behaviour) and his awful ultimatum to the more lenient Dora. It is very different from the heart-wrenching father-son scenario in The Son’s Room.
There are twists and surprises in store – clever ellipses usually delivered with the periodic hops forward in time, and in some ways the film is not unlike one of Woody Allen’s mid-period straight dramas: delivered with conviction and force but not really much profundity. It can be overwrought and even absurd but lively and heartfelt.