March 2023 in Rome. It’s the middle of the night and there is a pandemic curfew in place. The beautiful Irene (Barbara Ronchi) is sleeping next to her boyfriend Ale, when suddenly her mobile rings. It’s her ex Pietro (Claudio Santamaria). At first, she’s aggressive, demanding that he never calls again. Suddenly – and for no apparent reason – she snaps and jumps on her boyfriend’s car on a mission to rescue her former lover, who’s apparently on the brink of jumping off the roof. Bar a few minor characters, Irene is entirely on her own during the whole film. We only hear Pietro’s voice, and – just like the female protagonist – are left to guess what the manipulative man on the other end of the line is really up to.
The roads are virtually deserted, except for one police car and a few odd vehicles. Irene forgot her wallet at home with her cards and driving licence. The two most crucial suspense elements are her telephone’s dying battery and nearly empty tank. We are made to watch as both the battery and the fuel bar shrink. How highly original. Irene and Pietro recall moments from the past (including a trip to Barcelona, a move to Geneva and a pregnancy) and soon our heroine is just as deranged as the man who called her. She constantly begs Pietro (whom she now affectionately calls “Pi”) to climb down from the roof and not to hang up.
The plot devices barely fit together. Some developments are hardly credible: Pietro never realises that Irene has left her house despite all the background noise; Irene nearly falls asleep at the steering wheel despite her heightened state of fear and alert; and the conduct of the police and emergency services are extremely peculiar. What you end up with are two annoying, bickering former lovers arguing to no conclusion, in a banal and incoherent script that fails to grip viewers. Pietro’s irritating voice oscillates from whiney fool to sadistic maniac, with constant moaning and groaning. Irene transforms from gaslit victim to eager loony. You just hope she’d crash her car or he’d jump off the roof so that the movie is finished quicker. In case you manage to survive this 90-minute movie all the way to the final destination, fasten your seatbelts for a dead predictable ending.
Bar a satisfactory performance by Ronchi, a clearly accomplished actress, there is very little to be enjoyed in this silly”pandemic thriller”. It is impossible for the talented thespian to lift such pedestrian story entirely on her own. One swallow does not make a summer. Not even a beautiful Italian bird.
Never Hang Up (Non Riattaccare) shows at the 41st Turin International Film Festival. The movie is based on eponymous novel by Alessandra Montrucchio. Unlikely to reach anywhere beyond Italian borders.