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  Family Friend, The Neither a borrower nor a lender be
Year: 2006
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Stars: Giacomo Rizzo, Laura Chiatti, Luigi Angelillo, Marco Giallini, Barbara Valmorin, Luisa De Santis, Clara Bindi, Roberta Fiorentini, Elia Schilton, Lorenzo Gioelli, Emilio De Marchi, Giorgio Colangeli, Fabio Grossi, Lucia Ragni, Fabrizio Bentivoglio
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Shabby, old Geremia (Giacomo Rizzo) is ostensibly a tailor but actually a money lender in a small Italian town. Morbid, obsessive, lecherous and mean, he sees himself as a saintly figure lending cash to those in need. Yet those who borrow from Geremia end up indebted for life, struggling to repay double what they owe or else triple if late. With a scornful, bedridden mother the only family in his life, Geremia insinuates himself into other people's lives, pretending to be 'the family friend.' One day a man asks Geremia for money for the wedding of his daughter Rosalba (Laura Chiatti), a local beauty queen with big aspirations in life. Bewitched by her beauty yet offended by her sharp-tongue, Geremia once again takes advantage of the family's desperation to sexually molest Rosalba on her wedding day. Yet Rosalba is sharper than anyone suspects and a smitten Geremia ends up in a situation beyond his control.

Throughout his career Paolo Sorrentino has been compared with the great Federico Fellini which is no surprise given he often positions himself as heir apparent to the maestro most notably with The Great Beauty (2013), his acerbic subversion of La Dolce Vita (1960). While Sorrentino shares a similar penchant for poetic surrealism, his films are not as lyrical as Fellini's and temper their psychological observations and undoubted humanity with a certain cynicism perhaps more suited to modern Italy. Nevertheless The Family Friend stands as a bold, challenging film that amply displays his uncanny ability to transform ordinary, everyday images into something strange, unsettling yet also sensual. Through heady, inspiring camera-work that is always on the move, Sorrentino presents the world through a subtly fantastical prism so we may understand it anew.

In interviews Sorrentino characterized The Family Friend as "a story about people oppressed by sadness." It is also something of a beauty and the beast love story albeit one that more often brings to mind that classic line from King Kong (1933): "T'was beauty killed the beast." Opening with the jarring, never entirely explained image of a nun buried up to her neck in sand, the film mines a vein of very black humour rooted in a deeply human yearning and despair that just about keeps things from lapsing into mere misanthropy. Geremia is a pitiful monster who preys on the vulnerability of others but is himself profoundly vulnerable, dominated by an equally monstrous bedridden mother, haunted by an absent father. On the opposite end of the spectrum we have Rosalba played by the striking Laura Chiati. She is drawn as a shrewd, straight-talking, intuitive young woman who, without trying to engage our sympathies, proves sympathetic. Fully aware of the effect her devastating good looks have on the old lech she uses this to her advantage to deal some payback because sex is the only weapon she has. In some ways the film argues Rosalba is as doomed by her beauty as a Geremia is by his inherent, largely spiritual, ugliness.

To some degree the film panders to the fantasies of dirty old men given some of Rosalba's later actions do not entirely ring true. Also Geremia's sexagenarian sexual frustration is less tragic than Sorrentino seems to think it is. Numerous scenes where he leches after various nubile young women grow tiresome, treading a fine line between satirizing and merely wallowing in misogyny. In its weaker moments The Family Friend comes across as self-consciously quirky in a manner similar to some of the weaker Coen Brothers films. For example, Sorrentino's fascination with subcultures leads to a throwaway line-dancing sequence involving Geremia's country music loving pal Gino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) while his insistence on maintaining as much ambiguity as possible muddles the morality inherent in the story's outcome. Even so, Sorrentino confronts viewers with disparate poetic-surrealist images that slowly coalesce into a compelling narrative. He makes ingenious use of local architecture left over from the fascist era to tell half the story along with Teho Teardo's fascinating soundtrack which combines portions of Anthony and the Johnsons with country music, abrasive strings, discordant electronica and soothing jazz melodies. It is an unsettling, claustrophobic vision but undeniably powerful.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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