The comedy is broad and the stakes low, but the laughs are deep in Matteo Oleotto’s Zoran, My Nephew the Idiot. One of the highlights of the festival, the film is worth seeing for the subtle and sneakily likeable performance of star Giuseppe Battiston.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Matteo Oleotto.
Screenplay: Daniela Gambaro, Matteo Oleotto, Marco Pettenello, and Pier Paolo Piciarelli.
Runtime: 106 minutes.
Cast: Giuseppe Battiston, Teco Celio, Rok Prasnikar, and Marjuta Slamic.
Plot: Paolo is a contented alcoholic who practically lives within the local wineshop, and is gently tolerated by his wider community. Despite nurturing a quiet resentment of his friend Alfio, who is now happily married to Paolo’s ex-wife, he still attends lunch with them every Sunday and complies with the bare minimum of decorum and labour needed to keep him in wine and happiness. All of this changes when an estranged aunt dies; leaving the care of her nephew to Paolo. And he’s quick to come up with a harebrained scheme or two to adapt this misfortune to his advantage.
Festival Goers? See it.
Viewed as part of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.
Review: At some point during Matteo Oleotto’s Zoran, My Nephew the Idiot (Zoran, il mio nipote scemo) I stopped taking notes for this review and didn’t even realise it – I was enjoying the film far too much to care. Many important and significant films demand attention, in that they demand that the audience invest something of themselves within the narrative and the mode of representation in order to reach an insight or a perspective beyond their own everyday experience. There’s no particular, deep insight within Zoran that demands close attention and the perspective it elaborates is no doubt incidental to most of our lives; but that doesn’t matter one bit. The disposition and worldview of the film’s protagonist – a wine soaked misanthrope – is so engaging, casual, and authentic that you can’t help but be drawn into his exploits. Playing the part of both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Paolo (Giuseppe Battiston) is a character that should be deeply unlikable yet isn’t.
Instead, rather like his long-suffering friends and fellow members of a small Italian town on the border with Slovenia, one can’t help but like him. The laughter from the film doesn’t come in farce-like fits or sudden non-sequitur yelps, it comes from a deep and identifiable place even as we smile at our hero’s ridiculousness. Zoran, My Idiot Nephew is a film in that long, subversive (but with no target in particular in mind) tradition of works like McCarthy’s Child of God, Burgess’ Inside Mr. Enderby, or Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Just like Lester Ballard, Francis Enderby, or Ignatius J. Reilly, Paolo just wants to be left in peace – preferably with a fully stocked cellar of passable wine. My advice is to relax into this film and enjoy it, as narrative circumstance prevents Paolo from doing just that.
Paolo’s days are spent at the local establishment of friend Gustino (Teco Celio), where he is hardly the sole alcoholic in attendance – the proprietor, and even his mother, enjoy a few good drops, with the latter furtively and unconvincingly taking draughts of the stuff under the cover of her worn shawl. Paolo and Gustino’s longstanding Brüderschaft is immediately established as they engage in a game of checkers – with tumblers full of red and white wine standing in for the pieces. ‘Draughts are something you must feel inside’ Paolo lectures his drinking companion, ‘inside you only have crap and alcohol.’ The same could be easily said of Paolo, who is quick to get into trouble with a well-choreographed and unconvincing routine to evade the local police while driving home drunk (entailing a stop at a friend’s house in the dead of night, for yet more drinks, till the Carabinieri conclude their watch); then stopping to throw stones at his ex-wife’s house in the hope of rousing her and setting off the alarm system in the process. Said ex-wife (Marjuta Slamic) and her husband Alfio (Roberto Citran) are sympathetic figures, inviting Paolo over for lunch regularly in a gesture of genuine friendship and kindness – an invitation that the unconcerned Paolo is only too happy to accept and make the most of. Our hero also works a local job at a canteen secured for him by the obliging Alfio; doing the bare minimum to maintain his bacchanalian lifestyle.
All of this is well and good; but the film is at its best when introducing complications into the comfortable life Paolo has carved out for himself. This comes in the form of nephew Zoran (Rok Prasnikar); placed into a begrudging Paolo’s care after the death of an estranged aunt. Keen to get rid of him and return to his routine, Paolo discovers that his awkward and sheltered nephew is a prodigy when it comes to throwing his singular dart at a bullseye. This suitably shabby twist on the Rain Man formula has Paolo concocting grand plans to win bets, scam locals, and even take the kid to the darts grand championships in Edinburgh where the promise of €60,000 awaits. Yet at all turns he claims he simply wishes 'to defend him from this wretched world' like his poor rabbit Flachy, a tale which Paolo dramatically relates and most likely makes up on the spot. Things do not go to plan, to say the least; foremost among the windmills Paolo must tilt at is the fact that Zoran is incapable of hitting anything but the bullseye in his repeated attempts (and this is not a winning strategy in a serious darts tournament). The humour flows from there, as Zoran becomes more and more accepted into the life of the local community; and Paolo more and more desperate.
The plot and associated stakes are slight, the humour is broad, but the characters are deeply engaging. This is particularly true for Battiston’s rendering of Paolo, which in less talented hands could come across as caricature. This is not the case here, as he subtly modulates from a blithe and selfish invincibility both sober and drunk, to a hang-dog vulnerability later in the film. The other players are equally as accomplished; with only Prasnikar’s character coming across a little as a crude stereotype, due mainly to the role demanded of him within the film. The scenes are gently framed and shot throughout, with a handmade shabbiness of greens and browns foregrounding the authentic presences of the cast on screen.
I loved every moment of quiet enjoyment and humour Zoran, My Nephew the Idiot had to give. When one reaches the bottom of this bottle, the film has only one message to deliver – ‘wine keeps life going, water is for dogs.’ Propino tibi.
Rating: Four stars.