My order from Internet Bookshop in Milano arrived and I couldn’t wait to watch Paolo Virzì’s La Prima Bella Cosa (The First Beautiful Thing). It will be Italy’s official submission for next year’s Academy Awards and I’d really loved Virzì’s Caterina Va in Città. So last night when my husband was out of town and I had the TV to myself, I cozied up on the couch with the cats and popped it in the region free DVD player.
I watched it, and then tried to start writing about it but something was bothering me. I decided to watch it again, this time with the Italian subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. There were a lot of regional accents in the movie and I thought maybe reading the lines would help me understand it better. Again, when it was over, I tried to start writing. Usually I am so opinionated I’m writing before the movie has finished, but this time I didn’t know what to say.
So I decided to skim through it again and I did something that I really hate doing – I turned on the English subtitles. I thought It must be that my Italian just isn’t good enough because I was just sure that I’d missed something. I didn’t get it. It couldn’t be that I just didn’t like it; could it?
Unfortunately it could. I didn’t like it. I can not believe that there isn’t something better to submit for the Oscars because secondo me there is not a chance in hell that this one is going to win. It’s not like a movie about a guys’s screwed up childhood and less than perfect mother couldn’t be compelling, but this one isn’t.
The acting is good and there are some good scenes. I liked when Bruno and Valeria were meeting a brother that had been unknown to them and they told him to come meet their mother. “She’s ruined my life’, said Bruno. “Maybe if you meet her she’ll ruin yours too.” He’s kidding, in a way. I don’t think he blames his mother for everything, but he’s depressed. In maybe the most poignant scene he and his mother are out together and she’s laughing and happy but he whispers, “Why am I so unhappy?'”
His mom is played by two actresses, as a young women by Paolo Virzì’s wife, Micaela Ramazzotti and as an older one who is dying by the very famous and accomplished Stefania Sandrelli. Virzì did a good job making them the same person, the mother who although seemed very loving and lovable, just wasn’t very good at being a mom. Growing up she was the pretty one in her family, the one who very early on learned to get by on her looks and doesn’t really know how to be anything else.
This is just another movie that tried to do too much and in the effort didn’t do anything well enough. There are so many stories in it that could have been told better with a little elaboration. There’s the the mom who had a hard time being seen as anything more than a beauty queen – how much of this is her own fault? There’s the father who couldn’t accept the attention his hot wife got. (Maybe with reason?) There are the children and the question of which parent should have been raising them. There’s the jealous and bitter aunt who hated her sister and wanted the children for herself – maybe they would have been better off with her. There’s the brother who’d been raised in another family, the mother’s illness, Bruno’s trouble in his own romantic relationships…there’s so much going on that I feel overwhelmed even beginning to talk about it.
There’s a lot that is good, but La Prima Bella Cosa needed more work. I hope I’m wrong and I surely could be (it actually could be that my Italian isn’t good enough to appreciate it) , but this is some other country’s year to win the Academy Award. Take heart, Italy. The Academy rarely gives the Oscar to the movie I think it should, and luckily I’m not the one who gets to decide.