Review: Io sto bene
- Donato Rotunno’s third fiction feature sees two generations of Italian expats crossing paths to paint a simple portrait of the emotional state of immigrants living far from home
The topic of immigration is a theme close to the heart of director Donato Rotunno. Born in Luxembourg to Italian immigrant parents, the 55-year-old filmmaker has tackled the subject in many of the films he’s either directed (notably in the documentary Terra Mia, Terra nostra) or produced via his company Tarantula Luxembourg. And this same theme also takes centre stage in his third fiction feature, Io sto bene, which is currently Luxembourg’s candidate for the upcoming Best Foreign Film Oscar. It’s a sober drama which sees two generations of Italian expats crossing paths in a to-ing and fro-ing between the past and the present, and in a game of mirrors whose various reflected faces are all united in their search for a better life, the unresolved state of their loving relationships and the nostalgia they feel for home.
The film begins on a train where three young men from southern Italy - Antonio, his cousin Vito and their friend Giuseppe (Alessio Lapice, Vittorio Nastri and Maziar Firouzi respectively) – are each travelling towards a different destination: Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. It’s the end of the Sixties and, like so many other fellow Italians overcome by the economic crisis, they have left the Belpaese behind them in search of new work opportunities abroad, with the intention of returning home six months - or at most a year - later and realising their dream of marrying a beautiful Italian woman. But, as we see in the following scene, Antonio is now 80 years old, he has the face of Renato Carpentieri and he’s still living in Luxembourg, celebrated for his professional successes but, ultimately, alone. At this very same ceremony where Antonio is given an award, we find Leo (Sara Serraiocco), a young Italian DJ who is also living alone in Luxembourg, having been dumped by her boyfriend right in the middle of a tour.
“I just want to go home”, Antonio explains to Leo when they speak for the first time in a car park, after she offers to help him when he seems a bit lost. And the amount of time that this elderly man has wanted to go “home” for will be made clear through the film’s lengthy flashbacks which spirit us several decades back in time, to when the twenty-year-old protagonist first moves to Luxembourg, finds work as a bricklayer (“Together with various other Italians, I built Luxembourg”, he later insists), and meets and falls in love with local girl Mady (Marie Jung) – a determined, welcoming and emancipated young woman who goes on to play a cardinal role in his life – up until the moment when he commits a terrible faux pas which alienates him forevermore from his family in Italy, where he will never again return. Throughout the film, there’s an alternation between the past and the present-day situation of Antonio (Lapice and Carpentieri are brilliantly matched, especially in terms of their tones), who has recently been widowed and has resigned himself to moving into a nursing home, but first and foremost with the present-day reality of anxious Leo, who is fighting tooth and nail to build a new life for herself abroad, and wants to avoid returning to her home in Italy at all costs, despite the abuse and prejudice she suffers.
Antonio sees in Leo the stubbornness of his beloved Mady, but he also feels she’s the daughter he never had. A sweet relationship unfurls between them, built on mutual help and understanding, and intended as a safeguard against repetition of old mistakes. Theirs is an exchange between two different generations and their conversations paint a simple and unassuming portrait of the situation – and notably the emotional predicament - of immigrants living in a foreign land. Except that here, rather than non-Europeans arriving on boats, we’re talking about Italians in Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany, who set out with a head full of dreams but are sometimes condemned to solitude.
(Translated from Italian)
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