Director: Sydney Sibilia
2014’s Lavazza Italian Film Festival opened in Brisbane earlier this week, and will complete a comprehensive tour of Australia in just under three weeks’ time. As usual, the festival features a rich selection of contemporary fare, from films that won plaudits at Cannes to lesser-known gems. I recently had a taste of what is showing in a caper film that shamelessly takes its influences from television, specifically one of the most popular programs of recent times: Breaking Bad.
Smetto quando voglio (I can Quit Whenever I Want) marks the debut of writer-director, Sydney Sibilia, and pulls no punches in offering a reflection of the travails of a group of talented academics who are struggling to find their feet – and a living – in the wake of the GFC. Pietro Zinni (Edoardo Leo) is perhaps only a few years away from a Nobel Prize nomination when his self-serving supervisor offers a piece of advice that sees his protoge abandoned by the academy and suddenly out on the street. At home, Zinni’s girlfriend has designs on a much more affluent future; one that depends wholly on the success of her man’s academic career. With his life in tatters, and his dreams of molecular glory thrown to the winds, Zinni turns to his friends, each and every one of whom has traveled the same well-worn road long before him.
When an unplanned trip to a nightclub leads to an uninvited pill, Zinni realises that the quality and purity of the local party drug scene leaves much to be desired, and may just offer an opportunity to make real the possibilities of his brilliant theoretical molecular modeling process. Dragging his mates from a variety of low-end service industry positions – from service station attendants to dishwashers – Zinni explains his plan to exploit Italy’s lax recreational drugs laws to their benefit, and at the same time return some credibility to careers that have been shattered.
While there are many moments of humour in this rags-to-riches-to-rags story, director Sibilia’s reflection on the dreadful effects of the global financial crisis on the middle-class also brings a poignant note. These men – and sadly, they are all men – have devoted their lives the enrichment of knowledge, and suddenly find themselves at the whim of an economy that values only pragmatism and immediate usefulness over rummaging through the detritus of the past, puzzling about the foibles of humanity, or theorising over the possibilities for the future. In this new economy, practicality trumps possibility, and swathes of society pay the price. While the people behind the GFC mostly avoided prosecution and somehow redoubled their efforts to make billions by producing nothing tangible, Zinni and his compatriots are left stunned and hopeless in their wake.
Colourful, glossy, often quite sophisticated, and occasionally outrageous Smetto quando voglio is an entirely believable indictment of the price that society pays for profligacy.