Gianni Amelio’s subtitled film is a disability movie with a difference. Firstly, both of the disabled protagonists are played by people with an intellectual disability and, secondly, this is a film that manages to walk the delicate line between sentimentality and the exploration of people’s genuine emotional struggles.
Set in Berlin, the film tells the story of Gianni who is bringing his 15-year-old son Paulo from Italy to a clinic for a programme of intensive physiotherapy. Gianni, who never met his son before, is initially very awkward around Paulo, but pretty soon he relaxes as he gets to know the genial teenager with a liking for rock music and being independent. In the hospital, Paulo, who has a moderate disability and hemiplegia, meets Nadine, who has a severe intellectual disability, and her mother Nicole (superbly played by Charlotte Rampling). Nicole has spent the 20 or so years of her daughter’s life dedicated to looking after her and giving the best care possible, at the cost of her marriage and her individuality. As she reflects to Gianni on the joys and difficulties of being a parent in her position, she says, ‘prepare yourself for suffering’. This advice is not taken by Gianni who decides to take Paulo to visit a friend of his in Norway. Although they never meet the friend, this is the most intense part of the film because this is where father and son start the process of finding out who each of them is and how their relationship will be configured in the future. The scenes where Paulo tries to steer the car as they are travelling over a moorland road and the subsequent scene where father and son are reconciled after the argument are very powerful.
This film takes a simple story and manages to extract the heartfelt essence of the relationship between father and son and mother and daughter. At no time does the film descend into the evocation of cheap emotion, but it does reveal the complex and powerful nature of the diverse feelings that accompany such relationships. This is a rich movie that has the capacity to unearth deep emotion. Go and see it or get it out from discerning video rental shops—you won’t be disappointed.