Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Family Friend (L’Amico di famiglia)

The Family Friend (L’Amico di famiglia) starts with the surreal image of a nun buried up to her neck in sand, whispering “Our Father” on the beach. And we can see the backs of two people watching her.

Geremia is an old man. He’s a tailor running a sewing shop. But he has a second business. He’s a loan shark, lending out to needy families: you pay back double if you pay on time, or triple if you can’t keep up with the payments at any stage. And as well as looking for wealth, he’s also in search of love. A lecherous love.

He’s full of one liners:

  • “Love is no longer a cure now everyone’s at it”
  • “Democracy’s problem is that everyone can vote.”

But they’ll not charm too many bird off the trees.

He looks after his aged ill mother in a dreary, worn, leaky flat. She’s the mastermind behind the business, curtailing his more extravagant loans, and keeping him stable.

“He presents himself to his clients as a generous benefactor, helping only the poor and needy, and relying on his assistant, the cowboy-hatted Gino, to ensure payments are maintained.” (BBC Movies website film review)

Practically every frame of the film could make a farmable photograph. It’s exquisitely shot. It must have taken an age to achieve the look. It’s art. Pity the story isn’t as solid as the picture.

There’s a great scene of Geremia walking up a street against a sea of students coming the other way, carrying chairs, garden seats, deckchairs, sofas. With no explanation. Until about 10 minutes later in the film when we discover that the sponsors pulled out of the local beauty pageant, pulling the venue’s seating along with the funding.

He helps out the parents of a girl getting married. They can’t afford the wedding. So Geremia helps out with cash. But he falls for Rosalba, who won the Miss Agro Pontino beauty pageant. Without spoiling the story, his lecherous ways means he has to reduce Rosalba’s loan from 100% to just 12% interest (possibly with the complicity of her father).

The bingo-playing Granny is less lucky. She misses her payments and vanishes. Or does she? It’s then that Geremia’s trusted friends, including Gino his enforcer, start to be less trustworthy. And is Rosalba really in love with him?

Greed makes people contemplate and take risks that they normally would shy away from. So Geremia goes against his mother’s advice and agrees to make a single large loan ...

At the end of the film there’s a death. A fortune lost. A family lost. Alone.

There are two ways to look at this story. As the anti-hero, you can feel pity for Geremia, the lonely man, in need of love, in need of a brighter future than his flat and mother can offer. You can see him as a victim.

Or you can (wake up and smell the coffee and) see the people who have to take loans from Geremia as the victims. You can see the women he falls for as victims, abused by “a pathetic and disgusting person” (to use Geremia’s own words).

It’s a good film, but don’t expect to be inspired by the storyline.

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