Elsa (Margherita Buy) has always relied upon her even-keeled husband Michele (Antonio Albanese) to chart a steady course for their family, and as she finishes the requirements for a long-deferred art history degree, he offers unwavering encouragement and support, including an extravagant surprise party in their sizable Genoa apartment, where giddy well-wishers heap praise on her accomplishments.
With a few quick strokes, Italian filmmaker Silvio Soldini paints Elsa and Michele as prosperous and generous, worldly and sophisticated, with a host of equally accomplished friends. A comfortably upper-crust middle-aged couple whose well-appointed home is a shrine to their refined tastes and global travels, they're none too pleased that only daughter Alice (Alba Rohrwacher) has forgone college to open a restaurant, and has moved in with her working-class boyfriend.
That solid self-image begins to crack the morning after the party, when Michele confesses that he's been out of work for two months; squeezed out of the shipping company he founded 20 years ago.
Horrified by his lies, Elsa nonetheless helps him deceive their friends, even as she fears they'll go broke before Michele finds another job. They also choose not to tell Alice, picking fights with her rather than admitting to any failures.
In fits and starts, the resigned Elsa and hesitant Michele begin to restructure, but even as they confront a steep financial decline, they can't grasp the idea of diminished expectations. As they make painful adjustments, neither can quite reconcile the spouse they once knew with the new Elsa and Michele, both of whom exhibit a volatile blend of resilience, panic, determination and anger while trying to put on a brave face and move on with their life together.
Soldini (Bread and Tulips) expertly uses locales to express his characters' inner lives. The Mediterranean port city of Genoa is a jumping-off point to the rest of the world, so when Elsa and Michele can no longer afford to travel or maintain their beloved sailboat, and they relocate from the expensive Old World city center to a generic outer-ring housing complex, they suddenly feel trapped.
The very contemporary Days and Clouds is framed with Elsa's study of medieval art, and the uncovering of a church fresco. The restoration of this long hidden treasure requires methodical patience and a blind devotion that the bigger picture will one day be revealed. The same could be said of Elsa and Michele's fragile marriage.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 20, and at 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 21-22. Call 313-833-3237.
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].