Are you familiar with the rules of improv? Say“yes-and”, then always add new information, and do not block and refrain from asking questions. When someone says that their new film is a boat, answer with something like: yes, and it sails in lava. These appear to be the guidelines Italian director Sergio Castellitto followed when making the over the top drama Fortunata.

Fortunata (Jasmine Trinca), living on the outskirts of Rome, is a feisty woman trying to maintain a sense of stability amidst the chaos of her life. The self-employed hairdresser is barely making ends meet, and not enough time for her 8-year old daughter Barbara (Nicola Centanni), whose savage behaviour has landed her in the psycologist’s office. On top of that, Fortunata has to divide her energy between opening a hair salon, and brawling with her violent, abusive brute of an ex-husband Franco (Edoardo Pesce). Luckily, she does not run low on vigour and keeps going.

Fortunata is exceedingly loud and physical. A statement true to the character and the movie. There is plenty of shouting, gesticulating, shoving, pushing and thrusting. There is always something going on. The camera rarely leaves the protagonist’s side.

Ushering in a screening of Fortunata in Karlovy Vary, Trinca, claiming to be very shy in real life, admitted that the role pushed her to break some inner barriers. Quite hard to believe if her performance is anything to go by. Her characterization of Fortunata was convincing enough to win her the Best Actress prize in Cannes’ Un certain regard competition – an acknowledgement well deserved. Fortunata is anything but shy, but rather intuitive and impulsive. Trinca’s portrayal of the gritty character conveys plausibly the rough edges of a small town woman leading a hard life. Her ragged looks ooze it: bleach-blonde hair, skimpy skirts and neon tops. She manages to captivate, even when making decisions ill-advised to the bone. Fortunata’s struggles are the centre piece of the film, acting on her careless urges make sense here. Besides, flawed female characters are always welcome on screen. Things get rocky, when basically every other figure in the film starts acting just as foolishly.

After a quirky and strong beginning, Fortunata starts to fall grandly apart like a bizarre dream. The illogical and overblown character motives signal the ridiculousness of the script, especially evident in the totally inscrutable romance between Fortunata and her child’s psychiatrist doctor Patrizio (Stefano Accorsi). Handled with grandeur off the scale, it feels forced enough to make your eyes roll. From this love story of the century forward, the plot is treated like empty canvas, filled Jackson Pollock-style. Even disregarding the tiny prosy lapses, the sheer amount and volume of ultra-dramatic game changers is baffling, to become tiring. A big reveal has to be one-upped by a sob story, topped off with a plot twist. The audience is left to question the intentions of the director.

Castellitto is no newbie to the film scene. He has been behind the camera and in front of it, having earned several accolades like Italian Golden Globe awards, or prizes from Venice. He teamed up with his spouse and frequent partner, successful writer-turned-screenwriter Margaret Mazzatani. Despite the indistinct overwrought nature of the film that cannot be overlooked, they do hit several marks.

Fortunata’s sassy kid Barbara is like a mini version of her mum: she fights, cusses when necessary, and spits to indicate dissatisfaction. The genuine feeling of caring between the mother and daughter meets the eye, ever more affectionate in the light of the complexity of their relationship. At times when the film refrains from overdoing it with the melodrama, it manages to pull off the emotionality it aims to capture. Peaceful scenes with mum and her kid resting, bathing in the shadows of their dusky bedroom, are heartfelt and pleasing. Visually these moments of peace complement other stunning shots in the film – aerial shots or distant views of the Italian city scape.

Fortunata offers amusingly lively and spunky female characters in the protagonist and her daughter, some peculiarly sweet moments and appealing cinematography that pleases the eye. That is not enough however, to keep the improbable lava boat afloat. Even the brightest beacon cannot save this ship from destined doom. Sometimes it is smarter to abandon the waves of improvisation and stick to earthly logic.

"Fortunata" by Sergio Castellitto (IT)

KVIFF - Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2017 - Horizons

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Name: Nele Volbruck

Nationality: Estonia


C. Photo Credit: Fortunata ​(2017)