First impressions of Paolo Sorrentino’s impressively confident second feature might suggest that it’s going to be a little too insistently stylish for its own good – a couple of sequences might just have been lifted from a car commercial – but in fact the film manages to be entertaining, pleasingly intelligent and surprisingly substantial. It centres on Titta (Toni Servillo – excellent), a quiet, smart, very serious and very secretive 50-year-old Italian who for the last eight years has lived anonymously and pretty joylessly in a Swiss lakeside hotel, close to the border. Expert in shady finance but not in affairs of the heart, he keeps his cards close to his chest, too wary even to speak to beautiful hotel barmaid Sofia (Olivia Magnani)… until odd figures from his past start turning up at the hotel.
Kicking off as a genuinely skewed character study before taking an agreeable turn into the realms of the romantic crime-thriller, this contrives to blend comedy, suspense and understated sentiment to intriguing and witty effect. Luca Bigazzi’s meticulous, fluid ’Scope camerawork is never less than arresting, while the performances are good throughout: a turn from Adriano Giannini as Titta’s half-brother is especially memorable. The characterisations are vivid and deftly rounded, the script pithy and the control of mood entirely assured; but what finally (and, under the circumstances, ironically) lifts the film is the unexpectedly affecting coda, which not only provides a satisfactory sense of closure but at the same time sheds fresh light on much of what’s gone before. A delight.