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Friday, July 10, 2009
'La Raggaza del Lago'
A 'Twin Peaks' from Italy's mountain country
By KAORI SHOJI
When the nude body of the beautiful 18-year-old Anna (Alessia Piovan) is discovered on the shores of a lake in the Italian Dolomite Alps, the local town recoils like a slapped hand then clenches itself like a fist, hiding any number of secrets and unspoken, unexpressed emotions.
Upon first viewing "La Ragazza del Lago" (Japanese title: "Mizuumi no Hotoride") recalls "Twin Peaks," which also kicked off with a visually stunning cadaver, but filmmaker Andrea Molaioli wastes no time on preliminary character studies or finicky, linguistic humor — like its centerpiece Inspector Sanzio (Tony Servillo), "La Ragazza . . . " is cut-and-dried, humorless and with a matte texture mindful of facial skin after days of sleep deprivation.
"In a place like this, no one can hide anything," the townspeople of this idyllic little vacation spot keep telling Sanzio, conveniently ignoring the fact that they're not telling him much. Anna herself had been friendly but reticent, unwilling to part with much personal information. Everyone knew her as the captain of her school hockey team and the girl who was as lovely as a Renaissance statue.
Sanzio has little to go on especially since there were no signs of violence or sexual assault, and is then worried about having too many suspects. Anna's layabout boyfriend Roberto (Denis Fasolo) is the obvious one (he claims the relationship was sexual but an autopsy reveals Anna had no such experiences), and there's also her father Davide (Marco Baliani), whose home video collection speaks of a blatant fascination with his daughter's body. Anna's neighbor, Canali (Fabrizio Gifuni), had been the last to see her alive, having invited her for a cup of coffee at the local bar on the morning of her death. All three men tell Sanzio what a wonderful girl Anna had been — Canali is loudest in his praises, recounting the good job Anna had done as baby sitter to his small son. On the other hand, Sanzio believes all three are hiding something shameful, or maybe it's something precious; with a girl like Anna (who told her hockey coach that the only thing she enjoyed was solitary jogging) it's difficult to tell.
And Sanzio's own gaze on Anna grows increasingly obsessive, so much that he hardly seems to hear what his teenage daughter, Francesca (Giulia Michelini), is saying to him, and is temporarily distracted from anxieties about his Alzheimer's-ridden wife (Nicole Perrone). When he first inspects the murder site, Sanzio takes a long look at Anna and then tells his men to leave so he could have a private moment with her. They throw looks of outright suspicion, but Sanzio chooses to stare at her from a distance of 3 meters as if not trusting himself to get too close. In such a way, Anna haunts the frames like some pagan spirit and her name crops up in every conversation, yet she herself only appears in Davide's videos — a reluctantly dazzling nymphette in a red bikini, beseeching her father to put the camera down.
Andrea Molaioli had been Nanni Moretti's (best known for "The Son's Room") longtime assistant director — "La Ragazza" marks his feature debut as a filmmaker. The composition of the frames and the steady, no-nonsense editing show a hard-earned technique and seasoned maturity. Molaioli's sensitivities come to the fore in depicting children — highlighting their inherent strength and fragility, he shows how easy it is for them to be made victims of society, of parents, of their own, uncontrollable maturation process. At the same time the film shows, too, how children are capable of damaging adults and the equation is best seen in the psychology of Sanzio — pulled in all directions by Anna, his daughter and his wife who, at a time when he needed her as an adult partner, had morphed into a helpless child-woman. Creased and balding and sublimely tired, in the end it's Sanzio's well-being you're most concerned about.