Director – Nanni Moretti – 2021 – Italy – Cert. 18 – 117m
Various personal crises beset three families occupying the separate floors of a three storeyapartment block – out in cinemas on Friday, March 18th
This drama is based around the lives of three families, the occupants of three floors of a three storey residential block in Rome. On the ground floor is a couple with a young daughter, on the first is a woman whose husband is frequently away on business, on the top are are married couple who are also judges.
In the course of its narrative it runs through in greater or lesser detail the subjects of birth, drink-driving, dementia, child sex abuse, seduction, jealousy, financial fraud, and flight from the law. It divides neatly into three sections, each five years apart, by means of two ‘Five Years Later’ titles. Most of the story’s surprises occur in the first section, with the two later sections providing time for the consequences of these events to be explored in the long run.
It adapts a novel that was originally set in Tel Aviv, here moving the action to Rome.
It is (to say the least) a challenging film to review – or for that matter to sell – without ruining it in advance for audiences, containing, as it does, a number of major plot twists which completely redefine what happens afterwards, one of them occurring in the opening minutes. Indeed, the trailer fails completely in this regard, giving away key points so as to sell the film to audiences.
After a lengthy static shot of a three storey building with the title credits superimposed, this wades straight in with pregnant redhead Monica (Alba Rohrwacher) leaving the house and struggling to order a taxi on her mobile. Neither she nor we are quite expecting what happens next, which is something of a shock (you’ll get a pretty good idea if you watch the trailer, but I’m not going to tell you what happens and suggest you avoid the trailer, leap in and watch the film straight off if you plan to see it). Despite this trauma, Monica births a daughter successfully, but finds the process difficult with her largely absent husband Giorgio (Adriano Giannini) and starts to see a threatening black crow around the house.
While this maternal mental illness narrative is going on, the two judges on the top floor Vittorio Bardi (Nanni Moretti) and Dora Simoncini (Margherita Buy) struggle with the problem of their son Andrea (Alessandro Sperduti) who has committed a serious motoring offence likely to put him in prison. Andrea’s problems go further back, by way of alcohol abuse, to his relationship with his legalistic father. His mother is constantly trying to build bridges, but in the end her husband puts her in an impossible position when he insists she choose between himself and the boy.
A third story plays out in the lives of family man Lucio Polara (Ricardo Scammarcio) who, following an incident where his seven-year-old daughter Francesca (Chiara Abalsamo) and her grandfather Renato (Paolo Graziosi) go missing only for the pair of them to be found in the park at night. The grandfather has dementia, and can’t remember anything (including how to get home from the park), and while everyone else including grandmother Giovanna (Anna Bonaiutu) considers the matter open and shut, Lucio convinces himself that the grandfather has sexually abused the daughter, going so far as to visit the increasingly confused Renato in hospital and assault him.
Lucio’s situation is set to further worsen with the arrival from Paris of young Charlotte (Denise Tantucci) who wants to see her grandfather while he’s still alive. She adores Lucio, but things quickly get out of hand and the women of her family jump to conclusions not dissimilar to his conclusions about Renato, except that there’s enough substance to their suspicions for them to take him to court.
Despite the title and the opening showing the building’s facade and the various characters, Moretti doesn’t deliver a strong visual sense of the building’s geography and it’s easy to forget the three families, with their mostly separate lives, are in the same building. If the stories of the three sets of lives start off compellingly enough, the Charlotte episode lapses into the predictable, undermining the remaining narratives. The performances of the cast are generally top notch. The piece is electrifying for about its first third, but after that appears to lose its momentum.
Three Floors is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, March 18th.
Trailer (full of spoilers: so try and see the film first if you plan to see it):