Struck by the Netflix series The Booth at the End (2010-12), Paolo Genovese turn it into an off-the-grid drama: The Place, special event at the Rome Film Fest, will be released theatrically in Italy on November 9 on 500 screens thanks to Medusa. The box office success of his previous Perfect Strangers (over 17 million Euro) allowed Genovese to experiment with a different kind of film, far from the comedies he had made so far: "After the success, the main risk was to make something close to Perfect Strangers again. Instead, quoting the Taviani brothers, I tried to make something that the audience don't know yet, and that might like."

As in the series, we have a single place and a mysterious man (Valerio Mastandrea) who sits all day long at the end of a cosy bar, "The Place", with a schedule full of meetings. Day and night, he waits for his "clients" who ask him to help them realize their sometimes impossible desires. The nameless man asks them to do something in return, an action that looks disproportionate to the expressed desire. To get happy, the clients are willing to do everything, including terrible acts and huge cruelties, while their stories eventually intertwine. Once the deal is settled, they cannot negotiate, but only give up. The man doesn't force them to act, leave them the choice of deciding what is right and what is wrong, he observes without judging their ethical attitudes.

We see a father (Vinicio Marchioni) wishing for his son, who is dying of cancer, to be healed; the old lady (Giulia Lazzarini) who wants her husband to recover from alzheimer; the young nun (Alba Rohrwacher) who wants to believe in God again; the wife (Vittoria Puccini) who wish her husband would fall in love with her again; the blind man (Alessandro Broghi) who wants to regain sight; the policeman (Marco Giallini) who wish to re-establish a relationship with his son; the girl (Silvia D'Amico) who wants to get prettier; the mechanic (Rocco Papaleo) who would love to have an affair with the porn star portrayed in the poster hung in his garage; the policeman's son (Silvio Muccino) who wish not to hate his father. The waiter (Sabrina Ferilli) is the only one who has an equal standing with the unknown man: fascinated by his silenceand secrecy, she talks to him to understand who he is and what's his job. She slowly manages to get under the skin of such a melancholic and emotionless man, who might even have some compassion for the people who come sitting at his table.

The film partly borrows the same characters of the series, those closer to the US culture were left out - the artist, the claustrophobic - while others were added - the blind, the wife in love. In the words of the director: "I made the characters richer and I intertwined more their stories. The hardest part was to find a good ending for all the stories and for the whole film." A silver thread links The Place and Perfect Strangers, first of all the exploration of the hidden part of oursevels and a somewhat dark atmosphere. Moreover, both films are ensemble dramas. Genovese comments: "I like to narrate from multiple viewpoints. We have many voices, many bodies, who are never in the same place, excluding Mastandrea's character. The ensemble here is fundamental for an identification with different ethics." The viewer is left with the duty of deciding what is ethical in the end by considering the different viewpoints: "In this era of the social networks, we are very judgemental, but this film tries to interrogate ourselves in a deeper way." 

But who is the mysterious, nameless man played by Mastandrea? As the actor suggests: "Everybody can have his own interpretation. I don't think he's the devil, but maybe just the mirror of the others. A tormented and disquieting man who pushes you to decide what's best for you, who listens to the sorrow of the others." For Genovese instead, this character is completely neutral as he doesn't interfere with the decisions of the clients who come to him in their own free will: "He's neither God nor our conscience, because we are all confronting ourselves primarily."


ROMA 2017