Toni Servillo in the Neapolitan Chinatown
by Gabriele Barcaro
- Dangerous spiral for a prison warder caught in a trap of poker and love. A perfect role for a brilliant actor in a film which won acclaim at the 2010 Venice Mostra
Can you make a film about a character’s way of walking? Judging by Stefano Incerti’s new film Gorbaciof [+see also:
interview: Stefano Incerti
film profile], shown out of competition at the Venice Mostra, the answer would appear to be yes: as long as the footsteps are not those of just any actor, but of a true “master” performer like Toni Servillo. After the curved, stooped gait of Giulio Andreotti in Divo [+see also:
interview: Nicola Giuliano
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
interview: Philippe Desandre
film profile], based on the man himself, this time the actor tries out a highly original, bold and speedy walk: that of Marino Pacileo, who has sideburns and long hair spruced up at the back. He is known as Gorbaciof (with an f, and the emphasis on the second o) due to the prominent birthmark on his forehead.
Gorbaciof works as treasurer at Poggioreale prison, in Naples: everyday, in his close-fitting jacket, he goes to work, sits down at the counter and cashes in the cheques from the prisoners’ relatives. Pacileo talks little, and in the same way he walks: so quickly he clips his words (he first speaks more than ten minutes into the film).
He doesn’t talk, he gambles. His vice is poker, and to be able to afford it he “dips into” the prison coffers, caught in the grip of gambling and a guard (Nello Mascia) who knows everything and turns a blind eye, but sooner or later – let’s bet on it! – he will ask him for something in return.
Such is Gorbaciof’s life, until he meets and sets his sights on Lila (Mi Yang), the daughter of a gambling acquaintance, “the shark” Geppy Gleijeses. Who could be better placed than Servillo to know that you must beware of the consequences of love? But even this time, like in Paolo Sorrentino’s film, the protagonist is swept away by his feelings and drawn into a spiral of shady activities.
Gorbaciof was co-scripted by the director and screenwriter Diego De Silva, before being re-written purposely for Servillo – who more than ever gives a scene-stealing, subtle performance.
The film, explains Incerti, “starts out as a tale of urban loneliness, and ends up a little moral tale, a parable”. The backdrop of Naple’s Chinatown provides a setting for a love that needs no words.
Likewise, the director doesn’t feel the need for stylistic flourishes (Pasquale Mari’s cinematography is, nevertheless, stunning) or directorial virtuosity, preferring to focus on his protagonist. This risks making Servillo carry the whole weight of the film on his (admittedly strong) shoulders.