Thursday, November 11, 2004

Agata and the Storm

(Silvio Soldini, dir)

The Italian Film Festival started tonight in Dunedin, so I went along to the so-called "gala" opening, which meant I was given a bottle of Italian beer and had the privilege of hearing a message from the Italian ambassador to New Zealand, who could not attend as she's busy celebrating the return of the unknown New Zealand warrior to our shores. Somewhat OT, but I'm yet to understand how there can be so much certainty that he is indeed a New Zealander when his actual identity is completely unknown.

Anyway - what a boomer of a movie this was to start with, so enchanting, so funny, so warm, so full of its own quirky stylistic flourishes that give it plenty of colour. I loved it. The four main characters are the Agata of the title, her brother Gustavo, a fellow called Romeo and another fellow called Nico. There were also various subsidiary characters, and I think this may very well be the first movie I have ever seen where a hen has played such a prominent, yet gratuitous, part. The fact that several random elements were included is what made this movie so delicious. The "storm" of the title is Agata's own emotional or sexual energy, one result of which is that she can't be near a light bulb or computer without it blowing. It may be that this is started by the passion that is between her and Nico, 13 years her junior - one of the stories is his determined pursuit of her and Agata's near constant denial: she seems to take some delight in getting him to her door, he thinks he's about to finally get lucky but finds the door shut in his face. It isn't actually very clear whether they ever get it together.

Probably more important in terms of develpment of the film is the fact that Gustavo finds that he is not who he thought he was: his "father" took him on when a baby, paying off his birth-mother with 350,000 lire ("it was much more in those days") - I'm not actually clear on why this was done. His real mother was Romeo's mother, and one thing that Gustavo then needs to work out is who is father is. This knowledge causes a seismic shift in Gustavo's life - he basically retreats completely from his wife (ironically, a famous in Italy TV-psyciatrist) and his life as an architect of velodromes. Instead, he takes up with Romeo, and it was really heartening to see the way that familial lines were re-drawn, first between those two and then to include Agata, Gustavo's son and new girlfriend. Romeo is a very passionate man, full of wild schemes, love for his wife as well as having plenty of sexual energy left over to share with a number of other women. I think she knows about this - right at the end, she speaks of knowing of his faults - Romeo simply accepts himself for who he is.

I think it is part of Italian film-making to have a fair amount of tumult in the story lines and between the characters, but eventually things settle down into a fairly mad scheme: Romeo dreams of a trout farm, ball room and bowling alley. Agata wants a bookshop. Gustavo's very attractive former velodrome client (and now lover) wants a velodrome - so the idea is that Gustavo will design a concept including everyone's ideas, to be built on a plot of land that Romeo is trying to buy throughout the movie from an irascible old fellow who just might be Gustavo's dad. Unfortunately, not all turn out quite as expected - particularly for Romeo and Nico. The final scene was in an aeroplane: when I saw it was Agata who was a passenger, I was more than a little nervous, given the huge amount of electical havoc she could play, but obviously she has gained control of her powers by this point. As the Chinese mystic she consulted had told her would happen, she now has the power to turn lights off and on without actually breaking them.


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