THE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE (Le Conseguenze Dell’Amore) is a film about a mystery. At first the mystery may seem to be “What on Earth is this film about?” as its protagonist Titta Di Girolama (Toni Servillo) is not a man with much on his plate. He is an Italian businessman living alone in a Swiss hotel where everyday his routine seems to be exactly the same: he gets up, puts on a sharp suit and sits alone in the hotel bar, stubbornly refusing to engage in small talk with other residents or the barmaid who he has encountered everyday for the last two years (played by Olivia Magnani, granddaughter of Anna, star of Rossellini’s ROME, OPEN CITY (1945) and Lumet’s THE FUGITIVE KIND (1959)) . On special occasions he might stare at a chess board for a few hours or wander round a shopping mall without buying anything. You wonder if he’s about to get so bored he might try to dismantle his Corby trouser press.
The film opens with a two minute long static shot of a man with a suitcase standing on a travelator. It isn’t an opening that slaps you in the face. There is a (possibly apocryphal) story about Andrei Tarkovsky that on being told by the central Soviet agency for cinema which was financing STALKER (1979) that his film was too slow, especially at the beginning, Tarkovsky went crazy and told them that it actually needed to be slower and duller at the start so that anyone who had walked into the wrong theatre would have chance to leave before the action got under way. It’s an approach that certainly works on one level: from memory I can describe to you exactly what the opening scene of this film looks like just as I can with STALKER, which I wouldn’t be able to do with the last film I saw at the cinema. And though deliberately paced (OK, “slow”) , these opening scenes are captivating: there is the feeling of an impending storm around the character and his reasons for living this life of isolation. We get quick flashes that reveal parts of his back story: unpacking a wardrobe, he throws a gun onto the bed but it is quickly hidden from view by a jacket he adds to the pile, leaving us to question whether we really saw it at all. His mind-numbing routine also involves, every Wednesday morning at 10 o’clock sharp, the injection of heroin, an activity which seems to bring him neither pleasure nor pain and provides the film’s most visually arresting shot as the camera flips 180 degrees over the top of Titta’s head as he falls onto the bed. Eventually we discover that in his past life he was a financier asked to invest 250 billion lira on behalf of the mafia, losing 220 billion in a few hours. As punishment he has been forced to leave his family and live the rest of his life as a mafia pawn, his only duty to deliver suitcases full of money to a Swiss bank where he asks them to count out the heaps of money by hand, since “we must never lose faith in our fellow man”. Suddenly we’re watching a gangster movie – have, in fact, been watching one all along.
Some critics accused the film of feeling like an extended car advertisement. I can see what they mean: Sorrentino’s style is sharp and clinical but it’s also dramatic and elegant and, like the central character, hides a very human heart. His use of sound is intriguing. There is the unusual use of an electronica and postrock soundtrack which occasionally fades into or out of actual sounds in the film, as well as other sound effects merging into each other reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000). Since the dialogue is so sparse this is key.
Titta works up the courage to approach the barmaid and they begin a relationship that starts to break down his curmudgeonly defences. At this point the consequences referred to in the film’s title rear their ugly head, but it would be a crime to give away anything more about the plot here. THE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE is probably the most subtle film about the mafia ever made, whilst still pulling no punches when it comes to portraying the venality of the Cosa Nostra. Thrilling and contemplative in turns, it is a film that has haunted me since first viewing.