Magazine article Screen International

'A Family': Venice Review

Magazine article Screen International

'A Family': Venice Review

Article excerpt

Micaela Ramazzotti and Patrick Bruel star in Sebastiano Riso’s melodrama about professional surrogates

Dir: Sebastiano Riso. Italy/France. 2017. 119 mins

Relationship drama A Family aims for the ‘harrowing’ bracket but falls short and lands squarely on ‘gruelling’. This sombre, over-extended second feature from Sebastiano Riso - inspired, we’re told, by true stories, in the plural - offers a tantalising first act, largely because the film is so circumspect about putting its narrative cards on the table. But once we realise what’s at stake, and where it’s all likely to go, this grim study of a damaged duo, and of the screwed-up society they live in, offers diminishing returns.

A preposterous final act enters the realm of the positively operatic

Leads Micaela Ramazzotti and Patrick Bruel strive gamely to bring their characters to flesh-and-blood life, but are hampered by a script that pushes them towards increasingly melodramatic extremes. Riso’s 2014 troubled-teens drama Darker Than Midnight won him some attention on the strength of its youth content; this rather more stolid offering doesn’t have that asset, although Ramazotti’s current prominence, following her much-praised turn in Paolo Virzi’s Like Crazy, could win some attention.

Middle-aged Frenchman Vincenzo (Bruel) and somewhat younger partner Maria (Ramazzoti) are first seen huddled on the Rome subway, looking run-down and nervous, before she suddenly runs for it. For the first half hour or so, Riso teases us with hints about this pair - they’re clearly in the grip of amour fou, clearly both carry traumatic baggage and are at odds, sometimes violently, about the possibility of Maria getting pregnant - something that she’s currently trying to avoid.

It eventually - perhaps too late for the theme to really spark - emerges that the couple have already had several babies, which they’ve sold for money, and that Vincenzo wants Maria to have another. There are hints that both characters have dark back stories, but nothing explains how they embarked on their dubious path or why Maria has gone along with Vincenzo pimping her body, his propensity to violence notwithstanding. …

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