Paolo Sorrentino, 2004, Italy, 104 min, subtitles
Cast: Toni Servillo, Olivia Magnani, Adriano Gianni
Don't be fooled by the title. Love, in the conventional romantic sense of the word, plays the tiniest part in writer-director Paolo Sorrentino's excellent second feature. If there is a love story here, it might best be described, somewhat generously, as subplot. True, the press notes promise a film in which the merest possibility of love is strong enough to "completely explode the cage.to burst the dams", but this swooning rhetoric seems to be part of an elaborate hoax.
This is a poker-faced film which, like its central character, will not give the game away. Titta Di Girolamo (Servillo) is a 50-year-old Sicilian, who, for a considerable number of years, has resided in a hotel in a nameless town in Italian-speaking Switzerland . Hidden away from the outside world and severed from his family, he buries himself in anonymity. Dressed in an elegant grey suit and polo-neck, he sits all day in the hotel bar, chain-smoking, people-watching and doing the chess puzzles in the paper. Nobody knows anything about him. He speaks to no-one and his face expresses no emotion. The laconic witticisms of his deadpan voiceover give little more away: we learn, for example, that he is an incurable insomniac and that he has a heroin habit - not, he makes clear, an uncontrollable addiction, but rather an unchanging weekly custom of twenty years.
"I have no imagination", observes Titta. Outside the hotel bar, a horse-drawn funeral procession passes by; a man walks into a lamppost; the arm of a crane hovers in the sunset. But these peculiar snapshots draw no response from our impassive narrator. Neither does he have anything to say to his wife and children on the phone and he regards the visit of his ebullient and carefree younger brother as an embarrassing intrusion. Sorrentino gives little screen time to life's less predictable, more human offerings. Instead his camera lingers lovingly on images of conveyor belts, escalators, elevators, traffic lights and water sprinklers - the mindless, mechanical cycles of an automated world.
It is a tribute to Servillo's immaculately measured performance that this unfeeling, dehumanised man elicits a strange affection. His attempt to strike up a conversation with Olivia Magnani's pretty bargirl, whom he has not hitherto acknowledged, is touchingly pathetic. It is, he says, "the most dangerous thing I've done in my life." This, presumably, is the titular 'love'.
But Sorrentino is not about to provide us with the gossamer romance of, say, Lost In Translation . When two hired assassins appear in Titta's room, the film abruptly shifts gear. Titta, it emerges, was once a broker who lost a fortune of Sicilian Mafia money on the stock market and, by way of retribution, he must deposit weekly consignments of Mafia dollars in a Swiss bank. Titta's silent hermitage in the hotel is his lifelong punishment. And so, expectations thoroughly confounded, the viewer finds himself in different territory entirely - that of Godfathers, omertas and grisly murders. Titta faces the unsettling events which follow with his singularly unrelenting stoniness. The ending of the film offers a series of unexpected twists and a stunning tragic-comic finale that you won't see coming.
A brazenly unconventional and disorientating film, The Consequences of Love revels in the unexpected: false starts, charades, and surreal escapism. Like the never-ending opening shot - a conveyor belt slowly but inevitably carries an unknown man and his suitcase from the far distance (the camera position enforces a greatly exaggerated perspective before, at the last minute, panning round to something else altogether) - the viewer, for much of the film, can't quite make out what they are watching. Even when eventually the details come firmly into view, there is reason to suspect that it is all a red herring.
Titta's world may be narrow and unimaginative, but the glossy veneer of Sorrentino's idiosyncratic widescreen visuals (which owe something to the rapid jump-cutting of MTV and to the sexy elegance of Italian car commercials) bring it joyously to life. The movie's trendy appearance and its funky trip-hop soundtrack belie its central character's monotonous order, but then perhaps this too is the ultimate double-bluff of a wonderfully misleading film which cannot be taken at face value.