A Brighter Tomorrow review – Nanni Moretti’s new film is terribly disconcerting | Cannes 2023
NOTanni Moretti is the Italian director who will always have a place in our hearts, especially for his masterful The Son’s Room (2001), in my opinion the greatest winner of the Cannes Palme d’Or of the century to date. And more recently his cinephile comedy Mia Madre (2015) was terrific.
But his new film in competition is bafflingly awful: muddled, mediocre and metatextual – a total waste of time, both shrill and apathetic. Everything is heavy and boring: the non-comedy, the ersatz-pathos, the anti-drama.
It is indeed a film within a film, both as dull as each other. Moretti himself plays Giovanni, a witty filmmaker with a failed marriage who struggles to film his passion project about the Italian Communist Party rising up against the Soviets during the invasion of Hungary in 1956 – although a tongue-in-cheek and evasive final title card indicates that A Brighter Tomorrow can’t even commit to deciding whether it was all worth celebrating or not.
Giovanni’s wife and longtime co-producer Paola (Margherita Buy) pays the household bills with parallel hustle by producing a crude gangster flick for an up-and-coming filmmaker, and it hurts Giovanni so badly that he encroaches on the spot. when the macabre execution of the mob in this movie is about to be filmed and stops everything to explain to them how rude it is and why what they are doing is not as good as the murder scene in A Short Film About Killing by Kieslowski. Is he supposed to be a shrill, important idiot who deserves to be kicked off the set? Well no: this is probably a comic book hero whose high standards and chaotic midlife angst are meant to be adorable. Meanwhile, Paola sees a therapist and confesses that she plans to leave him.
Mathieu Amalric phones in a smiling, sweaty performance as Giovanni’s dodgy producer Pierre, who is busy backstage raising money. There’s plenty of superficial sub-Fellini circus stuff and plenty more brooding, redundant grunts from Giovanni about the state of the movie industry today, featuring an easy-to-target scene in which Giovanni is forced to take a meeting with dumb Netflix costumes who complain that his movie doesn’t have enough WTF moments. In fact, it’s been a long WTF moment, for the wrong reasons.
There’s also the now-traditional scene in which an aging cinephile tries to show a classic movie to his teenage boy who isn’t interested – though it’s kind of baffling that Giovanni goes ahead with his other idea, making a version John Cheever’s cinematic short story The Swimmer, not to mention the classic version of Eleanor and Frank Perry starring Burt Lancaster.
Moretti tries to get some undeserved sentimental approval by featuring classic Italian songs, and on the same basis of everything, including the kitchen sink, gives us a wacky walk from architect Renzo Piano in Woody style Allen/Marshall McLuhan, and a final parade of movie legend cameos that only give the film an air of complacency. I’m sure the future will be brightened by another best Moretti film – this one is better forgotten.