First Beautiful Thing, The / La prima cosa bella (2010)

5.0 out of 5

Yes, another contemporary Italian movie about a family and its problems. There’s the obligatory 70s flashbacks and dysfunctions and moments of forgiveness, and, yes, many of the most unsavory characters earn their moments of grace. But this is not a Ron Howard movie, nor is it an indie flick wallowing in its characters’ weirdnesses.

Valerio Mastandrea is the unhappy, drug-abusing middle-aged man protagonist who has to deal with the ugly present and confront his past. His terminally ill mother, played by Micaela Ramazzoti as a painfully gorgeous young woman and Stephanie Sandrelli later, creates the maternal focus for all the movie’s whirlwind storytelling. Both Ramazzoti and Sandrelli are excellent. Lots of entertaining characters and some remarkable humor and drama, but the best moments belong to Valerio Mastandrea and Claudia Pandolfi as brother and sister. Their story, chronicled closely throughout the movie, wouldn’t work so well without the two actors’ chemistry and ferocity.

Outside of maybe Cassavetes, it’s rare to see such a vivid brother-sister relationship presented with such attention to detail. One of the movie’s best assets, besides its mature direction, is the pleasure in watching the performances of the multiple actors playing the characters through their youth and old age. Here Ramazzoti particularly shines.

The pening shot manages to be both Brian DePalma brilliant and immensely funny at the same time. Watch this with Best of Youth for the kind of epic Italian storytelling that transcends the mainstream. It also gives a realistic portrayal of the Italian people.

Maurizio Merli header graphic courtesy of Paddy O'Neill of Foxyfide Graphics