Movie review: A Brighter Tomorrow (Il sol dell’avvenire)

(courtesy IMDb)

It’s all too easy to fall into ruts in life.

What seems like the perpetuation of something good and rewarding, the sustaining of ritual and performance which has worked for so many years, suddenly becomes a weight around your neck, or more accurately around the necks of those around you because much of the time you can’t see that what seems magically wonderful to you is now a narcissistic burden whose existence you fail to even recognise.

In A Brighter Tomorrow (Il sol dell’avvenire), directed by Nanni Moretti (who co-wrote the screenplay with Francesca Marciano, Federica Pontremoli and Valia Santella), Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) is readying himself to make his next film.

He is a talented and revered auteur whose wife Paola (Margherita Buy), has been with him every step of the way, producing his films and his films only, their professional and romantic partnership having now stretched over quite a number of decades.

But while Giovanni, who comes across as passionate but hilariously self-involved and hidebound by superstition – he must watch the same film and eat the same gelato with Paola and his musician daughter Emma (Valentina Romani) or his film will be a disaster – believes, perhaps a little too strongly, that he still has a great deal to see, Paola is fed up with his extremist, self-important self-absorption and wants to cut ties, beginning with the end of their marriage.

Does Giovanni see this happening.

He does not, and it’s his inability to appreciate that once supple and energetic creativity has now become pretentious preening and egotistical posturing that is sure to doom his new film, about the difficulties the Italian community party had in pivoting its position when Russia invaded Hungary in 1956 to violently suppress a rebellion by university students and other disaffected people.

The core of A Brighter Tomorrow is a redemption tale of sorts as Giovanni begins to realise that he has become so dark and brooding, so detached from what the average person wants and so apt to go intensely existential when people want something lighter and more meaningful – Paola offends him by going to work on a populist film about crime and gangs which Giovanni snootily scorns, one more notch in the dying coffin of their union – that he’s lost touch with the people he claims to love and the creative souls who hold tight to him simply because of his legacy.

A Brighter Tomorrow sees him at a crossroads (will he realise he has disappeared up into his own greatness ?) – once certain but rickety with the famed director now seen as so bleak and pretentious that someone suiciding at the end of his film makes perfect, and unexpected, narrative sense – or will continue to pontificate about art and truth in cinema while everyone around him, tired of the weight of his wankerism, simply get up and walk away.

If this all seems wonderfully straightforward, it’s complicated by the fact that Moretti has fashioned a film that in seeking to poke fun at pretentiousness in cinema seems unable to stop from trying to be the very thing it parodies.

That’s not to say that’s it’s caught up in its own cinematic importance; rather, it is so full of so many ideas that it is unable to put them in any sort of cohesive order, its messy narrative appeal further dimmed by the fact that Giovanni largely remains not a terribly nice person.

Now, you don’t need to love your protagonists, and in fact, there’s something to be said for having them remain difficult and contrary especially in a film like A Brighter Tomorrow where self-absorbed hyper-artistry is the very ailment killing off the main character’s emotional happiness and artistic relevance.

But desperately trying to pillory cinema’s more outlandishly self-involved tendencies, and it does have some good points to make in there somewhere, A Brighter Tomorrow ends up winding back in and on top of itself, losing its way repeatedly, right up to a feel-good finale which looks happy and redemptive but which fails to stick the audience impacting landing because there’s not a lot to rejoice about.

We are supposed to be happy, you think, that Giovanni has had an epiphany of sorts and has changed the ending of his film so it’s not so annihilationally pointless, but it’s all a little too little, too late and while the film possesses some quirky and fun elements, they’re too often subsumed by the very sins it seeks to humourously condemn.

Adding to the problem is that screenplay doesn’t quite know if it wants to deep dive into the production of the film Giovanni is working on – beside the dilm watching and gelato eating, he must film at least one scene in a particular neighbourhood – or its subject matter or his failing marriage or his daughter’s impending marriage or …

There’s a lot going on, and while it’s fun in one sense, and this reviewer was simply feeling a flickering inner glow at the propensity of A Brighter Tomorrow to go quirky and idiosyncratic hard on the heels of some hard-hitting emotional truth – at one point, Giovanni realises he cannot lose Paola from his life but shows her how much he needs her by holding the production team between the other film his estranged wife is working on effectively hostage as he muses, rather self-involvingly, about the artistic bankruptcy of their approach – but it’s so messily prosecuted that you might hold some affection for its eccentric daring while wondering just what the hell it was you watched.

A Brighter Tomorrow is not a bad film, and it has some amusingly fun elements to it that do a nice job of pricking the pomposity of cinematic self-importance, and some characters such as the criminally suspect French backer of Giovanni’s film, Pierre (Matthieu Amalric) who genuinely appeal, but ultimately while it has a quirky heart you can’t help but love and some sense of self-absorption being discarded and life beginning again, it does pull all the pieces together effectively enough, and so, while the film amuses and pleases somewhat, it ultimately loses itself in messy incoherence and a lingering sense that it may be the problem and not the artfully critical solution it sees itself to be.

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