There is a very clever scene inserted early in Remember Me. The listless, middle-aged Carlo (Fabrizio Bentivoglio – looking still a little worn from his role in the Australian disaster The Missing ) attends an annual get-together of friends which his wife, Giulia (Laura Morante), considers so tedious and predictable that she does not bother accompanying him.
Carlo, however, is in for a pleasant shock: he encounters an old girlfriend, Alessia (Monica Bellucci), and they seem drawn to each as much through their mutual melancholy in the present as through the memory of their past love. But there is a third person in this scene: a left-wing, intellectual motor-mouth who denounces the Italian middle class of today, with its petty, solipsistic problems, as "a simulacrum of the bourgeoisie".
Carlo and Alessia share a laugh about their crazy friend. But director Gabriele Muccino (The Last Kiss, 2001) has two good reasons for including this exaggerated sermon. Firstly, he is warding off (by gesturing to it) the acidic attack on the typical 'individualistic bourgeois drama' mounted by Nanni Moretti in his great Caro diario (1994) – where (according to Moretti) characters are always pathetically sad over the lost ideals and passions of youth.
Secondly, Muccino is letting us know that he has more on his mind than a simple, comfortable wallow in mid-life and middle-class crises. Remember Me is indeed – and contrary to what it might seem at first glance – a film of social critique.
Everyone in Carlo's family is frustrated, unhappy and insecure – not only husband (failed novelist) and wife (retired actor), but also daughter Valentina (Nicoletta Romanoff), who longs to be a variety-television bimbo, and son Paolo (Silvio Muccino), who seems unable to connect with the rituals of adolescent life.
All these characters are driven, to the point of being totally eaten away, by the doubt articulated by Carlo: "Am I worth anything?". They crave renewal and revitalisation, and will pursue anything to achieve it. And yet the worth or validation which they seek is always defined externally – by success, social acceptance, or the applause of others.
Remember Me is punctuated by striking images of alienation – such as Valentina's habit of looking admiringly at herself in the mirror whenever she is having sex with the producer who can get her onto television.
The film has a busy, complex structure that is better appreciated on a second viewing. Muccino proceeds, at a breathless pace, through the four parallel paths of the characters. A voice-over provides a sardonic distance for the viewer, and never lets us settle into any comfortable resolution of the all-pervasive bourgeois malaise.
The film borrows a technique from Martin Scorsese – having the camera relentlessly track people from room to room in long, unbroken, crowded takes – but gives it new meaning and force by concentrating such action in the home, rather than a glamorous nightclub or casino.
Such restless, neurotic energy is the key to Remember Me. Even when the hope of reconciliation or the promise of newfound happiness looms for these characters, something always introduces a note of tension or disequilibrium. A striking, bold plot event in the middle of the film rearranges the elements of the situation, but does not fundamentally alter the problems that beset these forever nervous, unresolved personalities.
This is a finely judged film that miraculously holds its many components together almost all of the time – only Paolo's trajectory seems underdeveloped and under-dramatised. The actors form an impressive ensemble, with Morante's repertoire of highly-strung mannerisms especially memorable.
Muccino is confident enough in his attitude towards the material to even allow us a few moments of breathing space to enjoy the mock-up of a typically garish Italian TV game show called Ali Baba.
© Adrian Martin September 2004