Wednesday, June 03, 2009

[Italian Film Festival Opening Night] The Girl By The Lake (La Ragazza Del Lago)


At first glance the synopsis might have suggested some similarities with the New Zealand film In My Father's Den, and indie film The Dead Girl. After all, the pace started to pick up when the body of a young woman is found by the lake (hence the title) of a small and quiet Italian town, with the story progressing like an investigative drama that made me wanted to scream Twin Peaks!

In essence, this film by Andrea Molaioli, based upon the novel by Karin Fossum, runs very much like how an investigations is set out to be, full of red herrings, half truths, deceit, together with plenty of doubt, and little leads to plough things forward. For that, I thought it captured the dilemma of an investigator really well, with Toni Servillo in excellent form as Commissario Sanzio, a stoic, no-nonsence police investigator who together with his small team, have to solve this strange case. If I may say so, it puts the audience into the thick of the action really well, with the ABCs of an investigation - Assume nothing, Believe nobody, and Check everything, superbly brought out.

And that started right from the beginning too, as things are not quite they seem, and I was quick to pass judgement on the film, thinking that it was an open and shut case too soon, and too obvious. For those who enjoy a good dose of investigative drama, then this film would be right up your alley. There are frustrations of course when you find yourself drawn into the events of the picture, working toward trying to solve the case before Sanzio does, but each time being thwarted, and going back to the drawing board if you had missed a potential lead, or had been blindsided and failed to pick up clues that the actors give out, akin to playing a game of Cluedo.

But those who don't enjoy wrecking your brains too much, fret not too. The story is rich enough not to dwell too much on the police work, deftly splitting its time to dig into a little more of its central characters so that they flesh out in more three-dimensional terms, rather than being flat. The ensemble cast deserves credit for making their characters believable, and hence all the more difficult when you try to weed out the possible suspects with clear motivations. In particular, we see more of Sanzio's personal life in the film, where he has to deal with a wife suffering from advanced dementia, and a growing teenage daughter (Guilia Michelini) with whom he sometimes fail to see eye to eye with. He may be tip top in the professional front, but on the personal end it does seem like he does require some assistance.

There would be those who might complaint that the ending was too convenient, but trust me having been there and done that, there are occasions when folks know their game is up, and resistance is just plain futile. To me, for personal reasons, this was as accurate a movie as can be that had brought out similar feelings during probes into what had happened, and you know what? A little eclectic techno music on the side does no wrong too!

The Girl By The Lake screens at The Picturehouse on 5 June Friday at 9pm, and again at The Arts House on 13 Jun Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are on sale now.

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