Director: Nanni Moretti (Italy, France). Year of Release: 2021
2010, Rome. A well-to-do apartment block. A heavily pregnant woman is dragging along one of those annoying bags on wheels. An App on her phone is telling her that they’re to find her a taxi. A car comes at great speed and she tries to flag it down. It doesn’t stop, but then ploughs into a woman on the zebra crossing some metres down the road. It then smashes into the apartment block that she’s just left, finally halting just in front of a little girl.
Andrea has way too much alcohol in his blood. His parents contact the neighbours to see if maybe the woman – who has now been pronounced dead – wasn’t on the zebra crossing. There’s no joy there. Andrea tries to persuade his parents – Dora and Vittorio, both judges – to pull some strings and maybe find on of their friends to take his hearing. Dora is slightly sympathetic, but Vittorio is having none of it. In fact, maybe a spell in jail will teach him some responsibility.
Monica finally finds her way to the hospital. Her husband is not present at the birth. As usual, he is working away from home (we later learn that the mothers at school call her “the widow”). When she gets home, a baby in her arm, there is a huge package outside her front door. It is a present from her husband’s brother – the man who, for reasons she has not been told, she is not allowed to mention. When her husband finally does return, he forces her to give back the present.
Lucio and Sara are a yuppie couple who once more need a babysitter for 7-year old Francesca. They often use the elderly neighbours, but old man Renato is starting to lose his memory, and what is it with him playing horsey with Francesca and demanding she plant a kiss on his cheek? Still, needs must, and after a family crisis, Lucio leaves Francesca with Renato until Sara gets back.
Renato and Francesca go missing – it turns out that they went out for an ice cream and got lost, but Lucio is convinced that some sort of sexual abuse was involved. This is despite the fact that the police categorically rule this out. Lucio is determined to find out what happened that night (Renato can’t remember and Francesca may be traumatized) and enlists the support of Renato’s granddaughter Charlotte who is visiting from France where she lives with her mother.
Drei Etagen is split into three parts, although the first part, set in 2010 seems by far the longest. Twice we spring forward 5 years to see what has happened to the characters.
Andrea is sent down for manslaughter. Dora tries to support him but Vittorio wants nothing to do with him. Later, Andrea is released and is reborn as a beekeeper, although he is still reluctant to apologise for his crime. Vittorio dies, and Dora tries to adapt on living on her own, donating his old clothes to a refugee charity and leaving messages on her dead husband’s answerphone.
Monica’s brother-in-law incurs huge debts and goes on the run, hiding out at her house while her husband is away on business. Again. She starts to get close with the brother-in-law, and finally learns that the two brothers’ fight was over her. One day, she just ups and goes, literally leaving a crying baby for her husband to deal with. It is suggested that her departure is due to her mental health, but if you want to be honest, he had it coming.
Charlotte tells Lucio that she has vital evidence in e-mails sent by her grandmother. When he takes her home to look through her computer, she takes her top off and looks at him seductively. For a couple of second he protests, saying he’s a married man, but they’re soon fucking. This leads to him facing his own trial for having sex with an underage girl.
Before watching Drei Etagen, I mainly knew director Nanni Moretti for his earlier, funny, films. So this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. It seems that quite a few critics were similarly surprized and the film has got a bit of a mauling. More than once, the chief evidence against it being Any Good is the charge that it’s like a soap opera. Well, each to his own, but I quite like soap operas.
Certainly there are things to criticize here. It’s not as if the comfortably off white middle class is a forgotten minority that has been largely ignored by film. And some of the sleazy men are sometimes given a little too much of an easy ride. Women not being able to cope is dismissed as mental illness, and young girls are just asking for it. To be clear, this Is not necessarily the view of the film or director Moretti, but there are a few too many blurred lines.
And yet if you take the film for what it is – a series of stories about the lives of several flawed but intriguing individuals, it does its job. There is no great character development – as people get older, the main thing that they change is their haircut – but they are confronted with real dilemmas and deal with them according to their abilities, sometimes well, sometimes badly. I don’t ask much more from a film, so I still don’t quite get why some critics got so annoyed.
Drei Etagen. It’s perfectly fine. I’ll let them use that quote on the poster.