Italian writer-director Francesca Comencini adapts her own fraught, hysterical novel for the big screen in Stories of Love that Cannot Belong to this World, which remains as fraught, hysterical and unbearable as her protagonist – even via a new medium.
Lucia Mascino plays Claudia, a literature professor who lives in Rome and is obsessed with the break up following a seven year relationship with a fellow professor, grizzled and bearded Flavio (Thomas Trabacchi). She sends dozens of texts every day and persecutes her apparently only friend Mara (Carlotta Natoli) with an almost constant tirade of complaints and pleading about her suffering and her long lost love.
In flashback we are gifted with the revelation that Claudia was just as unbearable when she was in love if not more so. She first meets Flavio during a conference in which they are on the same panel. She interrupts his admittedly dull pontificating with her own strident but similarly incoherent theories and then they go for dinner and when he calls her a bitch says she’s fallen in love with him. Just like that. Weirdly, Flavio doesn’t run for the hills and so they embark on a love affair that seems to consist almost entirely of arguing and then inexplicably making up.
Meanwhile in the present they both begin to move on with their lives. Flavio shacks up with a young girl Giorgia (Camilla Semino Favro) in a May to September romance. And Claudia has a lesbian adventure with ex-student and exotic dancer Nina (Valentina Bellé), which ultimately proves a passing phase. This is all supposed to be funny and Mascino’s over the top hysterics are no doubt intentionally pitched at a champagne glass shattering screech, but despite her Annie Hall floppy hat Claudia is so one dimensional and borderline mentally ill as to beggar belief as a functioning adult, let alone as a sympathetic romantic partner.
Comencini broadens her scope with a sketch in which a feminist delivers a lesson on the heterosexual capitalist sexual marketplace, summing up the sexual value of a middle-aged women and taking into account factors like divorce, unemployment, children etc. It’s wittly done but undermined by the suspicion that we could be living in a post-feminist sexual utopia and Claudia would still be a gigantic pain in the arse.
The Locarno Film Festival takes place from 2-12 August 2017. For more info: pardo.ch
John Bleasdale | @drjonty