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  • 15
  • Drama, Romance
  • 2008
  • 111 mins

Quiet Chaos

Quiet Chaos

Synopsis

A widowed father spends half a year waiting outside his daughter's school in order to work through his grief. Nanni Moretti co-writes and stars in this quiet drama from Antonio Grimaldi

About

Quiet Chaos opens with an image of sea waves, washing to and fro, endlessly reversing their own momentum in a tangible representation of time's ebb and floe. Two brothers, TV executive Pietro (Moretti) and jeans designer Carlo (Gassman), are playing ball on the beach, when they hear a cry for help. Pietro swims out to rescue the struggling Eleonora (Ferrari). "Let go of me! I'm dying!" she cries, before reversing her words: "I'm dying! Don't let go of me!" Later, Carlo asks his brother if he thought the woman was pretty. "We almost drowned, all four of us", replies Pietro, "I didn't look at her, I saved her."

This is difficult to believe, given the conspicuous way in which Eleonora's breast had slipped out of her swimsuit during their watery tussle but as the sequel to these events will show, Pietro is indeed a man who blocks out his feelings in a crisis. For while Pietro has been saving Eleonora's life, back at the summerhouse his own wife Lara has dropped dead on the lawn, leaving their 10-year-old daughter Claudia (Yoshimi) distraught and alone.

When the bottled-up Pietro drops the equally bottled-up Claudia off for her first day back at school, he promises to wait for her and spends the rest of the day in the small square beneath Claudia's classroom window. Soon Pietro is there every day, sitting placidly on the bench, dining at the nearby cafe, watching the passers-by, making mental lists, receiving visits from his relatives and colleagues, and waiting for the grief to wash over him and life to return, as it must.

Quiet Chaos is interested less in the drama than in the details of bereavement, but nonetheless feelings will out. The wife of one of Pietro's workmates unconsciously inserts curses and insults into her spoken sentences. At a psychotherapist's counselling session on 'detachment and separation', the woman sitting next to Pietro has a spontaneous nose bleed and moments later Pietro himself stands up and faints. Yet one of the great virtues of Grimaldi's Quiet Chaos, adapted from the award-winning novel by Sandro Veronesi, is the overall restraint that it shares with its protagonist.

Grief here does not end in the sort of emotive explosion all too familiar from multiplex melodramas, but rather subtly evolves over many months into something new - and it is that gradual process, in both its sadness and its absurdity, that this film quietly observes. Pietro's calm turns out to be as unexpected yet reassuring for the viewer as it is for all those around him.

Like the palindromes that Claudia is taught at school, Quiet Chaos is concerned with reversibility, and accordingly it is a film full of odd symmetries. Eleonora's deliverance at the beginning is matched to Lara's death, and Pietro's struggle, both violent and eroticised, to save Eleonora, finds its counterpart near the film's end when he has actual rough sex with her.

This last scene caused something of a stir in the Italian press, comfortable with seeing Moretti in the role of mourning father after his similarly themed, Palme d'Or winning film The Son's Room (2001), but far less comfortable with catching the amiable middle-aged comic in flagrante delicto. Still, as the first expression of desire on Pietro's part since his wife's death, this is a crucial scene, as close to a catharsis as the film ever gets, and obliquely closing the circle formed by the opening sequence.

Acting for the first time in 15 years in another director's film, Moretti is the glue that holds Quiet Chaos (which he also co-wrote) together, finding just the right balance of puzzlement, pain and bemusement on his expressive face, but he is well supported by the rest of the cast, with Yoshimi, Gassman and Golina (as Pietro's neurotic sister-in-law) warranting special mention. The emotional impact evoked by this ensemble might come in gentle ripples rather than overwhelming waves, but there is, in this sedate study of a man both sinking and swimming, letting go and not letting go, an ocean's worth of joys and sorrows to be found.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Hippolyte Girardot, Nanni Moretti, Alessandro Gassman, Charles Berling, Blu Di Martino, Roman Polanski, Denis Podalydès, Kasia Smutniak, Isabella Ferrari, Valeria Golino, Silvio Orlando
  • Director: Antonio Luigi Grimaldi
  • Screen Writer: Francesco Piccolo, Nanni Moretti, Laura Paolucci
  • Writer (Book): Sandro Veronesi
  • Producer: Domenico Procacci
  • Photographer: Alessandro Pesci
  • Composer: Paolo Buonvino

In a nutshell

Grimaldi's elegantly understated film is a Groundhog Day of grief suppressed and life suspended.

by Anton Bitel

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