Stefano Incerti / Italy / 2010 / 85 min
Balding, sweaty, middle-aged, badly dressed and burdened with a gambling addiction: Mario Pacileo (Toni Servillo), nicknamed Gorbaciof due to the prominent birthmark on his forehead, makes an unlikely white knight, but that’s exactly what he is in this Cassavetes-esque tale of a beautiful loser from Stefano Incerti.
From his job as a prison teller to the late night card games, bingo halls and bookies, this is a film and a character on whom sunlight rarely shines. His world is the Italy the tourists are never meant to see: grimy, charmless and violent – the mean stradas. Gorbaciof’s life revolves around work, petty theft, bets and debts, that is until he meets Lily (Mi Yang), the daughter of the restaurant owner whose backroom card table is the destination for most of his cash.
For the first twenty minutes, Servillo barely speaks, with whatever emotions stirring in his mind left to the actor’s remarkable Walter Matthau-ish face to tell. His taciturn demeanour means that when the transformation occurs it’s all the more wondrous – if not a little disturbing to watch the craggy features break into a lover’s smile. Incerti makes the change all the more astonishing with Gorbaciof’s wooing not being that of an awkward middle-aged Romeo, but a magical blend of fifties musicals and Cyrano de Bergerac.
Anyone who’s watched the films of John Cassavettes or the French New Wave which influenced them knows the inevitable arc this film must follow, yet Incerti still manages to make this unlikely May-September, cross-cultural romance work. Most of that is down to both Servillo – undoubtedly Italy’s best character actor, and the charming Yang who give truthful and heartrending performances.
A little patience is required from the audience as, although only a runtime of 85 mins, Gorbaciof is in no hurry to unfurl its story. But perseverance is rewarded with achingly beautiful, bittersweet performances from the leads and a glimpse beneath the marble, gelattos and trattoria tables into a rarely seen and not so Bella Italia.
Reviewed as part of the Italian Film Festival 2012 @ Filmhouse.
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