By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****
Don’t Be Bad (2015), the final flick from acclaimed Italian co-writer-director Claudio Caligari, continuously calls to mind the works of legendary poet, novelist, essayist, political activist and fellow moviemaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. This is most visible in Caligari’s deft ability to muster intrigue through his deliberately aimless anecdotal sensibilities. This is inherent in both the pace and general events of the respectable, if wholly familiar, script Caligari (who also formulated the storyline) co-penned with Giordano Meacci and Francesca Serafini. Such a factor is a trait most accessibly glimpsed in Pasolini’s ground-breaking, Franco Citti starring debut picture, Accattone (1961). It is also noticeable in Pasolini’s earlier novels, Boys of Life (1955) and A Violent Life (1959). This is the tome which Accattone is rumored to be partially based upon. Besides, the character-oriented essence that bridges these earlier stated creations, there is also an emphasis on our leads being thieves that is as much a part of Accattone and Pasolini’s brilliant literary fiction, A Street Life (1955), as it is in Caligari’s Toxic Love (1983). Interestingly, the later declared construction is referenced early on in Caligari’s seventh feature, Don’t Be Bad. The exception is that Pasolini was known to fixate on pimps and prostitutes in these prior addressed classics, the central figures of Caligari’s landscape were frequently an assortment of partially misunderstood drug dealers. The hedonistic individuals unveiled in these masterpieces were frequently those who, in hindsight, yearned for a better existence. This is despite the underlying tragedy that recurrently taunted them.
There is also a detached, clinical approach, that burns with an emotion that is present but rarely expressed, to both of Pasolini’s mediums. It is much in line with Caligari’s overall narrative tactics in Don’t Be Bad. Such adds an increasingly authentic, almost ruggedly documentary-like, veneer to the proceedings. The gritty cinematography from Maurizio Calvesi, as well as the everyday, straight-forward, though intermittently comic, dialogue, further heighten this impression. Thus, when a genuinely heartfelt illustration is conveyed it makes the scenes that they occur in, such as one in the aforesaid opus that transpires at circa the one hour mark, evermore painful and powerful. In turn, these arrangements force themselves to standout and linger on in our subconscious. Yet, one can’t help but think that there is still not enough of these moments to make the entire presentation memorable. Consequently, this lack of open sentimentality, as commendable as it endures throughout, and as perfect as it is for the types of people who dominate this tour de force, makes for protagonists that come off as assuredly angry. Yet, they are undeniably cold. Furthermore, it gives them the sensation of not being sufficiently fleshed-out. This makes them appear no different than those we’ve encountered in similar ventures. Maybe this is the purpose of such an exercise. Regardless, the distance Caligari and Pasolini creates, which can also be perceived as another of the life mirroring qualities on display, is as frustrating as it is invigorating.
Set in the peripheries of Rome (another connection to the tales of Pasolini) in the 1990’s, Caligari chronicles the relationship between Vittorio (in a solid enactment from Alessandro Borghi) and Cesare (Luca Marinelli, who is quietly riveting in his portrayal). They are self-proclaimed “brothers for life”. When the depiction begins, we spy them engaging in a life of excessive alcohol and drugs. Their nights are largely spent at the local disco. They also appear to be drawn to material flash. This is with fancy automobiles being among the shared interests of the duo. When Vittorio encounters Linda (in a unflinchingly stalwart turn from Roberta Matteia), he sees this as a chance to get out of the endlessly risqué being he has erected with Cesare. Yet, where Vittorio has found love, Cesare has uncovered a world that is slowly unraveling around him. Still, the distance between the pair is not eternal. Soon Vittorio and Cesare reunite. From herein, they attempt to live a “normal” being; one that is sewn from honest labor. But, will the past catch back up with them? Or will they be able to maintain this less hazardous, more gradual, routine they are currently building?
The plot, though sturdy, offers no real surprises. Not to mention, the otherwise well-made climax is cut from far too many similarly themed photographic entries. It also comes across as slightly overlong. But, Caligari has an eye that never leaves what should be the focus of any truly good narrative: those who dominate the presentation itself. Also, assisting matters is that none of the occurrences herein feel inorganic. Nothing in the one hundred and two minute and twenty-five second runtime of Don’t Be Bad, which has also been translated to Don’t Be Mean, comes off as placed in the invention to fashion unearned dramatic or tense instances. Such would simply be for the sake of garnering audience attention. The tone is also striking. This is especially true given the changes Vittorio and Cesare undergo throughout the affair. Yet, Caligari finds a method for the entire piece to continuously echo a tough, gritty, yet, somber and mature atmosphere. Such is a wondrous feat itself. This is made all the more awe-provoking given the fact that all of this unravels in a confident and unrushed fashion. Additionally, the performances are captivating all-around. Silvia D’Amico’s turn as Viviana is a magnificent highlight in this arena. When these exceptional constituents are combined with the consistently impressive reality that the photoplay unveils: it is all too easy to look away from the minor flaws of the application. Because of this, one cannot deny the satisfactory, ever-admirable nature of the production.
This endearing marker of quality, is made progressively evident by Caligari’s taunt, proficient direction. Co-composers Alessandro Sartini and Paolo Vivaldi offer terrific music. Their numbers marvelously illuminate all that is transpiring in Caligari’s construction. In turn, this detail augments both the beats of the exertion as well as impact of the bits they transpire within. Likewise, Mauro Bonanni offers seamless and sharp editing. Chiara Ferrantini’s costume design is superb. Paolo Soldini’ set decoration is masterful. Franco and Paolo Galiano’s special effects blend perfectly with the authenticity Caligari has meticulously carved into the effort itself. The same can be said for the team of individuals who put together the visual component of these celluloid illusions. Correspondingly, the make-up and sound squads are equally remarkable in their respective contributions.
The consequence of these elements is a reliably cinematic fabrication. This is most apparent in the quieter episodes. For example, the second act configurations which involve Vittorio and Cesare toiling alongside one another in a more commonplace location for employment. They are far more arresting than the combative notes the presentation commences upon. Yet, this Italian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards, soars because it provides what all great works should unveil: a demanding, beautifully crafted and singular experience. There is an easy, graceful movement to both Caligari’s on-screen style that is evident in the smooth handling of the various relationships, especially that of Linda and Vittorio, in the endeavor. It is also viewable in the manner the sequences and fiction unfold. This is another of the many attributes Caligari shares with Pasolini. With Don’t Be Bad, which opens in theatres on April 7th and will be available on video on demand May 23rd, 2017 through Uncork’d Entertainment, Caligari has erected a satisfying, stalwart conclusion to a fantastic career.
(Unrated). Contains violence, language and adult themes.