Davide Ferrario’s whimsical Turin on the Moon is a clever and poetic piece of film making, centred on the lives of three lonely friends and housemates within the magical Italian city on the 45th parallel. Although a film worth seeing, that quiet cleverness also unfortunately prevents it from being something greater.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Davide Ferrario
Screenplay: Davide Ferrario
Runtime: 90 minutes.
Cast: Walter Leonardi, Manuela Parodi, Eugenio Franceschini, Daria Pascal Attolini.
Plot: Disappointed with their comfortable but repetitive existences within the beautiful city of Turin, three housemates and friends take small steps towards improving their lives and finding love. The results are mixed, with intellectual slacker Ugo striking out with every girl he meets; zookeeper Dario wanting to pursue scriptwriting and perhaps settle down with his girlfriend; and travel agent Maria desperately wishing a client would whisk her away on the escapes she carefully plans for them.
Festival Goers? See it.
Viewed as part of the Lavazza Film Festival.
Review: A loving homage both to Giacomo Leopardi and the city of Turin, Davide Ferrario’s Turin on the Moon is a poetic hodge-podge that drifts aimlessly but is an appropriate tribute to the Zibaldone characters quote from extensively during the course of the film. Full of colourful shots of the city’s cultural landmarks, the film whimsically contemplates just what it might mean to dwell in a city that rests on the 45th parallel – equidistant from the equator and the North Pole – with a snapshot examination of the lives of housemates Ugo, Dario, and Marina. ‘So who is our kin? People from the local village? Or on the other side of the world?’ the narrator asks, pointing out that if one could cycle along that parallel they would eventually reach Mongolia. The film pins a lot on the arbitrariness of connection and dissection, pointing out the links that the city has to the rest of the world through the creation of a fictional line, and highlighting the equally fictional boundaries that restrain its main characters from moving on. Denizens move about Turin ‘without asking themselves what it means to be bouncing from one parallel to another.’
Chief among them is Ugo (Walter Leonardi), an orphan who has lived comfortably and lazily off the insurance policies of his parents – endlessly quoting from a copy of Leopardi’s Zibaldone that accompanies him everywhere, searching for love, and generally causing trouble for others with his spendthrift ways and cultivated eccentricities. Ferrario finds effortless ways to express Ugo’s character, early on having him encounter an aging structure with a parabolic roof, which Ugo can’t resist attempting to scale. Getting some of the way up, he slides back down to the ground again, in what might amount to a metaphor for the central characters’ current existences if it weren’t so gently and skilfully introduced. Ugo plays the Don Quixote of this film, struggling against legal problems he doesn’t want to consider and the eventual drying up of his financial resources; returning again and again to that parabolic roof, each time with improved equipment, to push himself a little further up its graceful curve. Ferrario’s film is at its best when documenting the quirks of characters like Ugo, wanting to connect and be a part of the world but also to stand apart from its demands and its banalities, to enjoy the thoughtful pleasures of being an amateur Montaigne or Leopardi within a modernity that demands more concrete labour from all.
Muddying the narrative clarity are the tales of friends and fellow housemates Dario (Eugenio Franceschini) and Maria (Manuela Parodi), both young thirty-somethings who are looking to escape their current patterns of living. Maria plans holidays for others, and dreams of being swept away by a handsome client to an exotic location; an event that narrative magic conspires to bring to a head. Similarly, Dario works as a zookeeper but fancies himself a writer in his spare time, encouraged by his friends and ambitiously spurred on by his new girlfriend. One suspects that Dario’s sub-plot is simply an excuse to film some beautiful shots within the zoo itself; and the film delivers, with a particularly breathtaking scene taking place at night, with penguins listening to Radio Parliament over the loudspeakers (as it scares off the foxes). Ferrario’s style is marred by a few unnecessary affectations – a penchant for awkward tilts of the camera, and gratuitous dolly shots chief among them. But there is no doubt that he captures something poetic within his subjects, even as the wisps of plot get away from them (a devil’s threesome in the final act is particularly unwelcome).
Unfortunately, Turin on the Moon doesn’t really amount to anything more than the whimsical and poetic. The interactions of the characters seem almost haphazard, and their motivations are cryptic and obliquely explored at best. Ferrario’s script does its best to cover this with charm, but ultimately the audience is left with little sense of these characters as people. The film is gorgeous, but frequently gorgeous in a way that reads as slick tourist ad for Turin rather than as a profound work. Yet the latter seems to be what Ferrario is aiming for, and sometimes pulls off with a learned reference or two – for example, at a romantic lunch, Oshima’s masterpieceIn the Realm of the Senses is referenced, complete with the presence of a symbolic egg. One character remarks that the best part of life and experience is ‘not to see something twice in the same way,’ a mandate which Ferrario and his cast ably deliver on.
But to what purpose? It is that purpose which ultimately eludes the film, and perhaps the characters it documents. ‘In love there are always too many or too few people’ the wizened old man of this tale remarks, referring cryptically to the three main characters that will soon go their separate ways. But among these three portraits, only Ugo’s is detailed enough to be convincing – which the film implicitly acknowledges, by closing with his triumph over the parabola. Yet Ferrario can’t resist another reference, one that intentionally or unintentionally falls into a hall of literary mirrors, in quoting Paul Verlaine (himself quoting Arthur Rimbaud – ‘Il pleut doucement sur la ville’ or ‘It rains softly on the town’):
Il pleure dans mon Coeur
Comme il pleut dans la ville.
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon Coeur?
It rains in my heart
As it rains on the town,
What languor so dark
That soaks to my heart?
Rimbaud’s poem went unfinished; and Verlaine’s reference to penetrating or wounding carries with it the double irony of his having shot Rimbaud with a pistol in 1873. Clever, poetic. But ultimately the wit of the critic; who is always too smart and referential for their own good, having to justify the existence of their commentary in the face of the primary existence of the work of art. That cleverness and poetry make Ferrario’s Turin on the Moon worth seeing, just as they unfortunately prevent it from being something more resonant and masterful.
Rating: Three stars.