Review of "A Brighter Tomorrow": Nanni Moretti becomes nostalgic for cinema, politics and himself in a meta-memory strictly for fans

Review of “A Brighter Tomorrow”: Nanni Moretti becomes nostalgic for cinema, politics and himself in a meta-memory strictly for fans

The captivating opening sequence by Nanni Moretti A brighter tomorrow (The Sun of the Future) observes a dusty old Fiat as it passes Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome and stops beside the Tiber. A man with a can of red paint and a rope steps out and halfway down the stone wall that hugs the riverbank, neatly painting the title words. The extravagant music immediately alludes to Fellini, an homage confirmed soon after by the arrival of a Hungarian circus in the city, and for all intents and purposes the film is Moretti’s film Half past eight. Or at least it wants to be.

More than 20 years after winning the Palme d’Or with his shocking pain drama Son’s room, Moretti is back with his 14th feature film for the usual appointment with Cannes. But after decades of wildly variable success in trying to push beyond his typical self-fiction, the director returns to the biting memoir style of film that first brought him to the French festival in 1993, Dear Diary.

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A brighter tomorrow

The bottom line

Moretti’s answer to ‘8½’, for better or for worse.

Place: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Launch: Nanni Moretti, Marherita Buy, Silvio Orlando, Barbara Bobulova, Mathieu Amalric, Jerzy Stuhr, Zsolt Anger, Teco Celio, Valentina Roman
Director: Nanni Moretti
Screenwriters: Francesca Marciano, Nanni Moretti, Federica Pontremoli, Valia Santella

1 hour and 38 minutes

Your mileage with this throwback will depend on your mileage with Moretti himself. Under his birth name, Giovanni, she revives his pedantic on-screen persona—an obsessive filmmaker portrayed with equal parts narcissism and self-deprecation—who will be a welcome blast from the past for his most ardent longtime admirers. That was certainly the case in Italy, where the film has been doing excellent business at a time when the post-pandemic box office is still struggling to find its feet. The less devout might find the meta-comedy a tired retread, eliciting more eyes than laughs.

That circus in Budapest is central to the plot of the film within the film Giovanni is directing, a mournful period piece about the failure of the Italian Communist Party in the mid-1950s to detach itself from Soviet hegemony after Russia invaded the ‘Hungary. Complete with marquee, animals, clowns and acrobats, the troupe was invited to Rome by a party section of the popular Quarticciolo district, directed by Ennio (Silvio Orlando), editor of a communist newspaper the Unitand his assistant seamstress, Vera (Barbara Bobulova).

Just as that scenario is taking shape, Moretti’s voice is heard in the present day, as he eagerly explains the history of the Communist Party of Italy – which nowadays is more likely to be called Socialismo Democratico – to the film’s cast and crew. , some of whom are too young to get it.

Giovanni’s wife of 40 years, Paola (Margherita Buy), is producing, though for the first time in her career simultaneously producing another director’s work, a rising young star making a pulpy, Korean-financed crime thriller .

This provides Moretti with a platform to interrupt filming, making Paola – and perhaps much of the audience – cringe as she delivers a moralistic sermon on the meaningless violence that supplants the cinema of ideas.

In a device that probably owes something to Woody Allen who consulted Marshall McLuhan Annie HallGiovanni seeks support in every disagreement from illustrious friends such as the architect Renzo Piano, the veteran journalist Corrado Augius and the author Chiara Valerio, even if he cannot reach Martin Scorsese.

Giovanni’s film is financed by the exuberant Frenchman Pierre (Mathieu Amalric), who rides around Rome with the director on electric scooters powered by the Dear Diary.

Rather than focusing on filming, Giovanni is preoccupied with countless other concerns. He has a pre-production ritual of watching Jacques Demy’s Lolla while eating the same cake every time with his wife and daughter Emma (Valentina Romani). But they both retire even before the film begins. With a foot fixation to rival Tarantino’s, he snaps at a mules-wearing actress, a pet peeve, on set, and gasps whenever the woman playing Vera dares to improvise, editing her dialogue.

Despite his experience making a film every five years, Giovanni is also mulling over two other projects: an adaptation of the John Cheever film The swimmer and a two-decade love story. The latter is undermined by real life when Paola finally asks for the divorce she had in mind for some time. Giovanni is a man who uses up all the oxygen in the room, so even finding the right moment to bring up the subject was a challenge for his wife.

In most movies, this would introduce a streak of sadness, and there’s a lovely scene where Giovanni fuels dialogue with a young woman conjured up in his imagination, who is arguing with her fiancé. But Moretti has practically never played anything other than Moretti, and touching nuances are generally not within his reach. Giovanni’s self-centeredness makes it seem like everything annoys him but nothing touches him, and without an innate affection for Moretti’s work, which makes him something of a talkative bore to be around.

I can’t say what I found more boring: her screaming readings of declamatory lines or her breaking into singing and even dancing as the film becomes a quasi-musical. He lifts vintage tunes from Franco Battiato, Fabrizio De André and Luigi Tenco, plus a more recent hit from Noemi that begins with Giovanni singing along to the car stereo until he arrives on set and the entire cast and crew join in. moments like those feel more knowingly cute than infectious. And you Not I want to see Moretti challenged by the beat as she hops along with Aretha Franklin singing “Think.”

When the production’s financing cuts out, Giovanni goes into crisis mode, looking for desperate solutions like a Netflix meeting in a funny scene that takes extensive – and probably not entirely inaccurate – jabs at the algorithmic approach to filmmaking in the era of the stream.

The financial hiccups are eventually resolved through improbable means, but Giovanni is gripped by indecision, repeatedly changing his mind about the bleak ending for Ennio’s character and any faith in the party to stay on the right side of history.

Moretti ultimately rewrites that story, choosing joy and unity over despair, and celebrating an alternative outcome, while also returning an affectionate nod to his filmography by mixing familiar faces from past work with the cheering crowds at the finale.

There’s an undeniable sweetness to touches like that, along with the presence of key returning players like the Buy and Orlando. But the film’s wistful hope for the future of cinema and its healing power ends up too complacent to register as an expression of collective faith.