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FILMS / REVIEWS Italy

Review: Off the Tower

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- An unusual addition to the Italian film landscape, Francesco Frangipane’s debut work is a family-existential drama which captivates through the brilliant performance of its cast

Review: Off the Tower
Edoardo Pesce and Vanessa Scalera in Off the Tower

When a film is toplined by twins and it’s not a US comedy, we’ve come to expect a psychological thriller or a body horror à la Cronenberg (or, in Europe, in the style of disturbing Austrian duo Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz). Trying his hand at his first fiction feature film entitled Off the Tower [+see also:
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, Francesco Frangipane employs the ontological implications of the relationship between twin siblings in a more gentle manner, to confront his protagonists – and the audience – with an impossible Kantian choice. Having premiered at Rome Film Fest, the film is hitting Italian cinemas on 13 June, courtesy of Lucky Red.

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Sitting down to lunch, a normal, middle-class family in a town in central Italy –two retired, seventy-plus parents (Anna Bonaiuto and Giorgio Conageli) and twins Antonio and Elena (Edoardo Pesce and Vanessa Scalera) who are nearing 50 – are playing the classic “who would you throw off a tower?” game, in a preview of what’s to come. Because Antonio and Elena are hiding a secret. The doctors treating their parents have revealed that their mum Michela and their dad Giovanni are both suffering from a genetic degenerative illness (a coincidence that’s only plausible if you’re willing to suspend disbelief), which can, however, be cured by a bone marrow transplant. The two children immediately offer themselves up as donors, but it turns out that Mario has a chromosomal abnormality and they don’t have time to seek out a donor or another blood relative. Elena is the only suitable donor, and the cosmic dilemma is: should she save her mum or her dad?

This significant question, with all the effects and consequences it has on and for relationships, paves the way to heated discussions and dramatic showdowns between the two siblings, who, needless to say, are both single without children and who share a symbiotic connection with suggestively morbid overtones. Fully aware that things will never be the same again once a decision has been made, the twins risk losing their moral compass and their ability to judge what’s right and what’s wrong. In their mission to play God, they’re left floundering in the darkness of reason.

An unusual addition to the Italian film landscape, Off the Tower is based on Filippo Gili’s stage play of the same name, which Frangipane himself directed. The director of theatre works, documentaries and TV fiction films, our expert Frangipane has expanded this family-existential drama to the big screen, delivering a story with airs of Greek tragedy and Dostoevsky, also incorporating the Oedipus and Electra complexes and the theme of otherness (“The uniqueness of human beings is called into question by the existence of twins”, David Cronenberg remarked in relation to his movie Dead Ringers). In this film adaptation, Frangipane expands the confines of the theatrical stage to set this story within the wilds of nature in the splendid region of Umbria – photographed with hazy naturalness by Sammy Paravan – and among the narrow streets and town squares of Gubbio. There’s no lack of pain-filled internal dialogue, which doesn’t detract from the tension and anguish but it definitely messes with the movie’s mechanics in the second half of the story, when we feel like we’re going round in circles. The audience nonetheless remains relatively captivated by the story, mostly thanks to the four actors’ extraordinary performances, although Gili’s screenplay could have done without some of the clumsier symbolic paraphrases, such as the white horse which escapes from Antonio’s country estate and roams around the valleys like a unicorn (lost purity?), the textbook Freudian dreams, and the doctor’s (Elena Radonicich) bizarre and somewhat unprofessional behaviour.

Off the Tower is produced by Lucky Red, in collaboration with Sky Cinema and RAI Cinema. True Colours are managing international sales.

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(Translated from Italian)

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