‘Io sto bene’ Review: An Imprecise Memory Piece About Loss and Regret
There’s a sense throughout “Io sto bene” that writer-director Donato Rotunno knows his characters deeply. Unfortunately, that impression doesn’t translate to three-dimensional portraits that might let viewers understand them as more than fleeting figures in a fragmented memory piece. The trifurcated tale of an elderly man who, while grieving his recently deceased wife, looks back on their marriage at the same time that he befriends a young woman, this Luxembourg production — the country’s Oscar submission — is gentle and wispy to a fault, coming across like the promising outline for a grander movie about loss, regret, and loneliness.
In Luxembourg, long-time Italian expat Antonio (Renato Carpentieri) is preparing for the unwelcome next phase of his life, accepting retirement awards, putting his house on the market and checking out nursing homes in the aftermath of his spouse’s death. Via a chance encounter, he strikes up a friendship with DJ Leo (Sara Serraiocco), whose own situation is hardly a bed of roses: She’s struggling to pay the rent on her one-bedroom flat above the club where she performs, she’s alienated from her concerned mom (who wants her to return to Italy), and she’s pregnant with a child whose father is unaware of these circumstances. Theirs is an unlikely bond forged by sorrowful isolation, as well as by the fact that Antonio sees something of his late wife in his new friend.
“Io sto bene” initially operates on these two dual (and eventually dovetailing) contemporary narrative tracks, but it soon focuses most of its attention on a third strand — that of Antonio’s (Alessio Lapice) decades-earlier arrival in Luxembourg with his two cousins, Vito (Vittorio Nastri) and Giuseppe (Maziar Firouzi), and his romance with Mady (Marie Jung), with whom he’d go on to share his life. Rotunno’s interest in Antonio’s past quickly overwhelms the film, which details how Antonio spent his early days abroad writing missives to a father that he dearly missed, penning love letters on behalf of Vito to his cousin’s paramour Francesca, and choosing to become foolishly and destructively intertwined in that couple’s state of affairs.
Echoes between the film’s two time periods abound, with Rotunno segueing somewhat suddenly between the past and the present. More detrimental than that abruptness, however, is the sketchiness of his action, especially with regards to older Antonio and Leo, whose relationship is even more half-heartedly established and developed than the one shared by twentysomething Antonio and Mady. The writer-director provides us with snippets of information about his players and the dynamics and motivations governing their behavior, but they never coalesce in a way that might intimate authentic, well-rounded lives. Instead, Antonio and Mady resemble ghosts from a faintly remembered yesteryear, while the elder Antonio and Leo resonate as unhappy individuals we only hazily comprehend.
Massimo Zamboni’s sensitive score and Jean-François Hensgens’ attentive cinematography strive to draw viewers into “Io sto bene” (whose title means: “I am fine”). Yet the problem is that there isn’t much inside this film; it’s as if Rotunno has transposed his own, and others’, recollections and stories without dramatically fleshing them out. The same is true of Carpentieri’s morose performance, which helps emotionally ground the proceedings in a mood of longing and distress, but nevertheless feels incomplete. The swiftness with which almost every storyline is resolved and/or dropped further suggests that there’s a longer, more fully developed saga to be made from this material. As it stands, though, “Io sto bene” leaves one wanting much more.
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