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FILMS / REVIEWS Italy

Review: A Dark Story

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- Leonardo D'Agostini’s second movie is a story about domestic abuse which feels trapped between the genres of film noir, legal thriller and sociological investigation

Review: A Dark Story
Laetitia Casta in A Dark Story

Leonardo D'Agostini’s second film, A Dark Story, which is hitting cinemas on 16 May via 01 Distribution, sees Laetitia Casta playing a woman living in Rome who has left her husband following years of abuse. Penned by the director himself, the screenplay is based on Antonella Lattanzi’s homonymous novel published in 2017, which was also the year the #MeToo movement exploded. Lattanzi was a screenwriter on D’agostini’s first film, The Champion [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Leonardo D’Agostini
film profile
]
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What’s apparent is that there’s still something maintaining the ties between Carla (Casta) and Vito (Giordano De Plano), namely their three children Nicola (Andrea Carpenzano), Rosa (Lea Gavino) and little Mara. And when the latter expresses her desire to have her daddy at home for her birthday party, her mother has no choice but to oblige, even if the presence of the man she loved for so many years chills her to the bone. After the party, her husband disappears and a witness soon emerges (Vito’s suspicious lover, who’d followed him, played by Lidiya Liberman), claiming she saw him going back into Carla’s home and not leaving. A body is found in the Tiber and Carla is accused of murdering her ex-husband by the public prosecutor investigating his disappearance (Cristiana Dell’Anna). She is put on trial together with her current partner, who is accused of helping her get rid of the body. The accusation is premeditated murder rather than an act of self-defence, as Carla claims.

D'Agostini proves his expertise with the camera, as well as his knowledge of various genre film tricks, but the film seems trapped between the film noir, legal thriller and sociological investigation genres it straddles, with the obligatory cross-references it makes to one of the dominant themes of the hour: the question of gender and power relations between men and women. Domestic abuse is analysed through an event which paints the protagonist in an ambiguous light (in interviews, Laetitia Casta insists that “we can’t judge” Carla), placing it on retaliatory neo-feminist ground.  The director shows how the toxicity of this violent relationship has spread to affect the entire family. The eldest child shows aggressive tendencies towards his twenty-year-old sister, who is so frightened by the situation, she takes refuge under the wing of her father’s sister (the ever-brilliant Licia Maglietta), who, in turn, defends her dead brother from accusations of obsessive violence. We see the aunt’s house full of religious icons, underlining a connection between Catholicism and the patriarchy. The dramatic twists are also far too obvious, emphasised by the director by way of Stefano Ratchev and Mattia Carratello’s horror music, and several “technical” issues can also be detected on the legal side (the unusually inquisitive public prosecutor, the “moral complicity” of those who helped hide the victim’s body, talk of a voluntary witness making use of their right to remain silent, the legal experiment in the courtroom). Amidst all this vagueness, the French actress doesn’t quite manage to lend the appropriate shades of ambiguity to the protagonist, while the wonderful Andrea Carpenzano idles in his performance.

A Dark Story is produced by Groenlandia together with RAI Cinema. World sales are entrusted to True Colours.

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(Translated from Italian)

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