A Castle in Italy: the tree will fall
by Fabien Lemercier
- Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi delves with sensibility to the heart of a wealthy family, caught up by time and the disarray of existence
"It’s a family of degenerates, spoilt kids. The prince and princess of Castagneto!"… Who is the gardener of A Castle in Italy [+see also:
interview: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
film profile] by Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, unveiled in competition at the 66th Cannes Film Festival, talking about? Louise and Ludovic, heirs to the Rossi Levi family, an Italian "empire", “sold for next to nothing” after the death of their industrialist father. But the remaining money nevertheless enables the brother and sister (both in their forties), as well as their mother, to live a very comfortable life between their castle near Turin and their plush apartments in the chic neighbourhoods of Paris. But rich people are human too, and they also cry...
Once again delving into the same autobiographical inspiration which flowed through her first two feature films (It’s Easier for a Camel [+see also:
film profile] and Actresses [+see also:
film profile], appreciated in Un Certain Regard in Cannes in 2007), the director and protagonist evokes in three seasons (spring, autumn, winter) the end of a world, that of life in the castle, youth and its arrogant games. A page which is turned under the sign of loss and a slightly desperate existentialist quest, yet presented without any pathos and filmed by Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi like a nostalgic, hesitant waltz between being painfully torn from a happy past and the difficulties of finding a path towards the future. In this in-between period which strips itself down, sterile and morbid, traversed by frantic efforts to make something rise from the ashes or kick over the traces of the unavoidable, family ties focus on essentials, just like the director, who does not attempt to densify her plot artificially but to come as close as she can to the often disjointed reality of human existence.
Slightly lost and always on the verge of hysteria, Louise (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) does not have a husband, kids, nor a job since abandoning her career as an actress. She says she wants to “give space for life in her life”; plagued by the stress of not having children, she tries to find a solution in a completely disorderly practice of religion, whose strict principles she has never applied. She is well-off, but the magnificent castle of her childhood is too expensive to maintain (10,000 euros in upkeep every month, plus salaries – paid in Swiss Francs – for the personnel), and a tax inquiry hangs over the non-declared revenues of the family which do not corrrespond to their ostentatious lifestyle. But more than anything, her beloved brother, Ludovic (Filipo Timi), has Aids. He withers away and rebels ("People are going to watch me die?") against the idea of transforming the estate that links the Rossi Levi family to their Italian roots into a museum, unlike his mother (Marisa Borini), full of common sense unlike her thoughtless grown-up children (“You are idiots!”). It has to be said, however, that they do not entirely lack resources as they sell a Brueghel at auction for 2.6 million euros. But as the saying goes, money does not buy happiness and Louise tries to thwart her fears by launching into a romantic love affair with the young Nathan (Louis Garrel), nearly 20 years younger than her, and desperately trying to get pregnant. But just like the sick chestnut tree in the castle’s garden, the family tree will fall.
Filmed with great control with sets glorified by the light of Jeanne Lapoirie’s cinematography, A Caste in Italy distils a melancholic charm tinted with bursts of comedy brought about by Louise’s character (exposed to perpetual impulsive contradictions) and underlying messages (for example, the song “When people are hungry, there’s a revolution”). With strong backing from the other actors (especially Xavier Beauvois and Céline Salette), Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi pursues her highly emotional exploration of the disarray inherent to human beigngs, our obsession with passing time and the themes of fault and forgiveness. These philosophic questions are omnipresent in the background of a film (which makes reference to the last scene in Blow-Up by Antonioni) whose true heart is absent: the father.
(Translated from French)