More than any other Italian director of his generation, Nanni Moretti has found a welcoming home at Cannes, where he has now taken eight films to competition and has won two major prizes — best director in 1994 for Dear Diary and the Palme d’Or for The Son’s Room in 2001. Three Floors (Tre Piani) is, by any standard, one of his minor works. It will click mainly with hard-core fans, who will appreciate its recap of Morettian themes, tropes, locations and actors and its heavily underlined political correctness vis-à-vis women and immigrants. Outside Italy, where it has been selling briskly, it may connect with art house audiences interested in a professionally made, no-frills drama.
But for those looking for a film that attempts new narrative or technical adventures, the interwoven stories of three middle-class families living in a sprawling Roman condo are a disappointment. Above all, the theme of ordinary people dealing with their hopes and fears in the face of major trauma — and there are some big shockers in each of the stories — fails to hit the same emotive highs as, say, The Son’s Room, which told the story of how a child’s death nearly destroys a family.
The Bottom Line
The drama is there, but the emotional dots don’t connect.
The screenplay by Moretti, Federica Pontremoli and Valia Santella is based on a novel by Israeli writer Eshkol Nevo, and they skillfully transpose the Tel Aviv stories to Rome, albeit with a far greater insistence on violence than in the director’s previous work. You can picture fear-based male anger and wiser female peace-making in an Italian situation. Still, one feels the lack of an underlying original idea that makes the director’s work so quirky and identifiable, and that also goes for the missing element of ironic-iconic humor that has been slowly disappearing from his films.
The opening scene at night is an attention-grabber. From the massive front door of a stately old apartment building, the very pregnant Monica (Alba Rohrwacher) makes her way out to the street pulling a trolley. While she is urgently looking for a taxi (the street is absolutely deserted), a car comes careening around the corner, hits a woman passerby, and crashes through a big glass window on the ground floor.
The driver of the car turns out to be Andrea (Alessandro Sperduti), the drunk, wayward teenage son of two judges, Dora (Margherita Buy) and Vittorio (Moretti); when the woman he hits dies, he is put under house arrest awaiting trial. His parents know he will go to prison and are helpless to help him get out of it. The theme of out-of-control male anger surfaces in a vicious physical fight between father and son, ending in Vittorio’s ultimatum to his wife that she choose between her son and him.
Second story: Monica has her baby all alone in the hospital. Her husband Giorgio (Adriano Giannini) is away for work for months at a time and his absence is a great burden to her. She has visions of a mean black bird and fears she is losing her mind, like her own mother before her. Another male anger flare-up: Giorgio seems less excited by the birth of his first-born than furious over the arrival of a big present from his estranged brother Robert. He forbids Monica to keep the present or to see his brother.
Finally there is the young family of Sara (Elena Lietti) and Lucio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who are wont to park their 7-year-old daughter with the nice old couple next door, Renato (Paolo Graziosi) and Giovanna (Anna Bonaiuto). One day, the forgetful old man takes the little girl out to get ice cream and loses his way home. Though the pair is soon found in the park, Lucio can’t get it out of his head that Renato has abused his daughter. With little logic or credibility, he violently attacks the old man.
In the second half, the stories continue on their separate ways, only the editing becomes faster and faster in alternating them. The title “Five Years Later” appears twice, presumably advancing the time to 2020 (though the only sign of a pandemic is the lack of traffic on the street). Two new characters turn up: Young Charlotte (Denise Tantucci) arrives from Paris sporting a big crush on Lucio, and the humanitarian Luigi (Tommaso Ragno) fortuitously appears to help Dora over a crisis. One would think all these characters and a fine cast would be enough to bring the proceedings to a satisfying dramatic conclusion, rather than a pleasant fantasy without much meaning.
Of note among the tech work is the emotional range of Franco Piersanti’s music, from a rather sinister theme for the apartment building to a complex tango that is not all sunshine, either.