Director | Giuseppe Piccioni
Screenplay | Giuseppe Piccioni, Pierpaolo Pirone, Chiara Ridolfi
“We were born in the wrong time” declares the stoic Caterina in Giuseppe Piccioni’s latest film These Days (Questi Giorni). Considering the state of today’s austerity Italy, where youth employment stands as the third worst in Europe, it is difficult to argue with her observation. In the last six years, high numbers of Italian youth have left the country in search of employment and a future elsewhere, an action that was even encouraged by the director general of Rome’s LUISS University in 2010. The premise of Piccioni’s film appears at first glance to be drawing from this national crisis: four young women on the cusp of adulthood leaving Italy in search of work. However he seems, with writers Pierpaolo Pirone and Chiara Rudolf (based on an unpublished novel by Marta Bertini), to ignore this immediate and urgent context for vague notions about losing innocence, joy and immortality during maturity. Despite his desire to use these young women to ‘say something about life today’ without ‘falling into stereotypical depictions of youth’ Piccioni never rises above the superficial and sentimental. As such These Days is an uneven, pretentious film thats offers no meaningful exploration into the concerns facing Italian youth today.
Caterina, Liliana, Angela and Anna are four young women about to end their college studies, though each are beset with distinct personal issues. Liliana (Maria Roveran) is self-sufficient but struggles to run the life of her neurotic hairdresser mother Adria (Margherita Buy) while keeping her recent cancer diagnosis a secret. Caterina (Maria Gastini) is emotionally distant and cyncial though quite why this is the case is never made clear. Insecure Anna (Caterina Le Caselle) is three months into an unplanned pregnancy, clearly unprepared for motherhood. Finally, Angela (Laura Adriani) is unsatisfied in her relationship, encouraged on by her misogynistic father (an intimate tense scene at the family table sets this up at the beginning but has absolutely no bearing later on). When Caterina decides to take up an employment opportunity in Belgrade with old flame Mina (Mina Djukic), the other three decide to embark on the road-trip with her for what is intended as their symbolic rite-of-passage into adulthood. From the outset, Piccioni ignores any issues born out of the contemporary economic crisis and how this might affect youth and opts for more universal difficulties- cancer, pregnancy, relationships. However, in overburdening of the film with all these issues, the film only provides a shallow exploration of each of them. Not that this prevents him from making grandiose allusions to Milton’s Paradise Lost and the casting out of Adam and Eve from Eden.
Fortunately, the four actors have natural rapport on-screen together, making these otherwise two-dimensional characters relatable. The relationships don’t feel too forced or idealistic, there seems genuine affection, humour and tension between them. Margherita Buy and relative newcomer Roveran are also believable in the inverted parent-child relationship, leading to the film’s more poignant moments. However, there isn’t more beyond this as much else is, despite Piccioni’s intentions, informed by stereotype. Liliana pines for her older bumbling college professor (Fillipo Timi); Anna is blissfully naive and just wants to fit in; Caterina is a repressed, angry lesbian; and Angela has boyfriend troubles. As such, Piccioni seems incapable of developing these young women in any way that isn’t formulaic or just whimsical. A reliance on florid voice-over narration to tell us how characters feel and how this relates to the great philosophical scope of it all also weakens our ability to genuinely care about these young women or the significance of their journey. ‘Nothing happened, but everything has changed’ Caterina tells us at the end, and while not much really does occur on their trip, the notion that these women have faced quiet seismic, life-changing decisions just feels hollow.
Claudio Cofrancesco’s inconsistent cinematography only exacerbates the unevenness between the naturalistic performances and the whimsical writing. By using protracted, artistically composed sequences where the young women gaze at each other out of the car window wistfully, Piccioni and Cofrancesco are reaching for something deep and nostalgic. However, the deliberate pace and composition are just too unreal, too saccharin to genuinely invest in seriously. To make matters worse, Valerio C. Faggioni’s melodic ‘humming’ soundtrack becomes increasingly irritating due to its reiteration and tugging on the heart-strings. Other sequences employing these same techniques undermine the poignancy that the scenes could have. When Adria leaves her patrons to find her daughter’s oncologist report, Piccioni intercuts her shock with the close-up confused faces of the patrons- who with curlers still in their hair- try to seeking her out in almost zombie-like fashion. The mixture of unintentional comedy with Adria’s difficult discovery nullify the impact the scene could otherwise have. Again, there is a sense that Piccioni reaches for verisimilitude, observing that both humour and tragedy can often join in moments, but when clumsily put together as above the effect is just awkward and redundant.
These Days is a romantic conception of today’s Italian youth created by a middle-aged man who seems, based on this feature, so far from them. It is so unfortunate that considering the precarity that faces this generation, which is leading Italy to inadvertently export its youth and their talents, that a film so distant and vague could be created. Despite what could be seen as an earnest intention to say something about today’s youth, Piccioni is only able to offers up overly sentimental notions: ‘All those moments that pass us by in which it seems like things have their own secret agenda, a sudden blaze that suddenly becomes memory, a missed opportunity, a gesture lost along the way’ he reflects in his director’s notes. Such flowery rhetoric could easily have been inserted into Caterina’s monologues, backed by artsy cinematography and schmaltzy music and still feel utterly devoid of meaning. Such depictions offer no actual recognition of the youth today. It is time they told their own story.