QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
This fairytale-like dramedy from Italian newcomer Marescotti Rupoli is set in a never-and-nowhere land, a utopian country filled with meandering highways, empty village cafés, and old-timers now spending Friday evenings in retro clubs. It is in this far-off world, sheltered from the worries of social reality, that our two protagonists will meet and fall in love under peculiar circumstances.
Amusia is, above all, a romance that attempts to convey the gradual blossoming of love between two unlikely strangers within a rich language of visual poetry. Lucio is a young music-addict who works at the galvanising Amour Motel as its charming receptionist. He spends idle working hours reading Faulkner and DJs from time to time at the local disco, Caprice. Livia is a reclusive and enigmatic young woman, seeking shelter for a few days at Lucio’s extravagant hotel. Anxious and apprehensive, she shows all the symptoms of someone who is running away from something. It is soon revealed that Livia is suffering from a strange disease, amusia, a neurological condition which affects her perception of music. Indeed, music for her is traumatic. Its sheer presence is enough to provoke intense headaches, nausea and mental disorientation, akin to a PTSD flashback. Persistently clashing with her father, who, naturally, is a renowned musician, she has led the life of an outcast, a fugitive, unable to participate in daily social life, constantly in fear of the sudden detonation of a jukebox, or the unwelcome arrival of someone carrying their radio set on their shoulder.
While I am no expert on such mental condition, a small amount of digging through the internet has led me to the knowledge that amusia is a synonym for tonal deafness, which can be present since birth or acquired in life. It would thus appear that this condition does not, as opposed to what Amusia suggests, lead amusics to ‘hate music’ or be unable to co-exist with it. If this were the case, amusics would be unable to participate in any music-related activity, attend any event from cinema-going to menial elevator rides – their lives would basically be hell on earth. The film, therefore, not only takes (huge) liberties with its representation of a real condition, but, what’s more, the amusia of Amusia is, simply put, not amusia. And while filmmakers should be able to take liberties with facts, I am tempted to ask: why would someone freed from the pressures of realism not opt to create a totally different, brand new, more imaginative condition? Indeed, a purely fantastical disease would have been more suited to the wondrous dreamscapes our protagonists roam about.
But this is only a minor detail. The real shortcoming of Amusia is its sense of grandeur which can at times come off as extremely pompous. Our two main actors are virtually two supermodels, and their tale, perfection: the innocent orphan, a local Johnny Depp with a mole above his lips, a swift poet with a sculpture of letters spelling ‘dreams’ suspended above his Habitat-furnished chalet; a blue-eyed goddess accompanies him, descending deftly from the catwalk ladder of a Milan fashion parade. The whole aesthetic regime seems to have been lifted from the wondrous enchantment of a perfume ad. All is glossed over with the spray of naivety, romantic scents so densely sweet they drown all subtleties. The hotel he works at, he admits, is the meeting house of prostitutes, midnight shaggers, lonely housewives and unfaithful husbands. But he sees himself as a modern-day Cupid, who, by procuring a room for two people, ‘increases their chances of falling in love’. At the end of the film, our lovers decide to become fugitives, out of the blue, since settling into the chalet of ‘dreams’ was not worthy enough of their fairy-tale longings. No, what they need is a journey to the end of la strada, even though they are jobless (money is never an issue). Their salvation is their sense of romance – it will be a honeymoon, he insists.
From the design, to the location choices, architecture, framing and camera movement, the presence of cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, whose credits include the astonishing Great Beauty (2012) is noticeable, and so is the ghost of Paolo Sorrentino, whom Rupoli conspicuously admires. He inherits from Sorrentino the self-importance of wannabe poetic dialogue, as well as the fetishisation of the character-artist, the father, played by Maurizio Lombardi, a stylish chain smoker and pianist reminiscent of the writer from The Great Beauty. However, at his best, Sorrentino was always able to convey a sense of irony, of self-depreciation running through the grandeur and the pomposity of his depiction of high class – which Amusia sadly lacks.
As a final note, while I admire the tributes that Rupoli pays to his favourite artists, the vast catalogue of homages that sprout amidst the lovers’ dialogue can feel like the distasteful virtue-signalling of a director’s arsenal of cultural references. Rather than discussing the actual worth of a few artists and their work, these dialogue scenes come across as empty name-dropping, which may indicate a lack of self-awareness on the part of the filmmaker.
Amusia is showing in the First Feature Competition of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.