This overheated Italian melodrama offers both the pleasures and absurdities of its particular genre: passion (or in this case, lust) exaggerated to operatic proportion, a protagonist who suffers and sins mightily only to be redeemed by love, and an obsessive affair where a couple thrashes and claws at each other before achieving a rapturous tenderness.
The framing story involves a surgeon named Timoteo whose teenage daughter is brought to his hospital after a motorbike accident leaves her with a possibly fatal head wound. He leaves the operation to others while moping in the hospital lounge, ruminating over events that happened some 15 years earlier. This leads to the flashback that is the main part of the film. The pivotal event in Timoteo’s past happens when his car breaks down in a slum area outside of Rome. While waiting for a mechanic, he meets a young woman named Italia (Penélope Cruz, made up to look like a scuzzy street urchin). Fueled by too many shots of vodka, he follows her to her apartment, ostensibly to use her phone, and proceeds to rape her.
Timoteo is played by Sergio Castellitto, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay with his wife, Margaret Mazzantini, which was adapted from her novel. Timoteo would be a truly appalling character if it weren’t for Castellitto’s somewhat sympathetic portrayal. Alternately charming and withdrawn, he’s moody but not menacing; even his initial attacks on Italia seem more pathetically desperate than cold-blooded. He’s an emotionally bottled-up middle-aged man with a coolly distant wife who vents his frustration in the occasional angry fuck. The real tragedy begins when Timoteo and Italia, after a few more assaultive encounters, start to fall in love. The rich and sophisticated surgeon and the half-crazy bag lady-in-training are not the kind of match that leads to a happy ending.
There’s a flashback that shows how Timoteo was abandoned by his father as a young boy, but it’s an unconvincing explanation for his adult behavior. Don’t Move — which was hugely popular in Italy — may leave a bad taste in some viewers’ mouths, especially those who can’t get past the initial rape (which is handled in a directorially oblique manner that goes a little easy on both the viewers and Timoteo). However, it’s never dull. And the story of the doomed lovers offers some genuinely sad respites among all the ludicrous excess.
In Italian with English subtitles. Showing at the Maple Art Theater (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111).
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].