Quiet Chaos Review
Quiet Chaos is a fine and appropriate title for this adaptation of the Italian bestselling novel by Sandro Veronesi, relating not only the central theme of the film – the shutting down from the outside world that its main character undergoes in trying to deal with the grief of the unexpected death of his wife – but also to the distanced approach that director Antonello Grimaldi itself adopts towards this tumultuous event. Such an approach is in marked contrast then to that of Nanni Moretti, whose film The Son’s Room dealt with a similar case of bereavement in a much more intense manner characteristic of that director. The comparison is all the more interesting for the fact that it is Nanni Moretti who not only wrote the script for the film, but who acts in the main role of Pietro Paladini, the man who finds himself at the centre of all this chaos.
The contrast in approach is justified in this case since the quiet chaos referred to by the title is less to do with the period of bereavement than the fact that the death of Pietro’s wife momentarily shakes him out of the world he is in, distancing him from the turmoil going on elsewhere. When his wife Lara dies at their holiday home in Roccamare, Pietro is on a beach with his brother Carlo (Alessandro Gassman), the designer of a fashionable brand of jeans, the two of them at that same time leaping into the water to save two women who are drowning while others stand around helpless. Unable to process the curious emotions that are engendered by the saving of one life and the death of another while the world just stands-by, Pietro is unable to grieve. Instead, as he leaves his daughter Claudia (Blu Yoshimi) to school one day, he decides to not return to work, but just sits on a bench and waits for her all day outside the school gates. The next day, he does the same thing and the day after that as well.
Sitting on the bench, watching the world go by at a different pace and to a different rhythm might sound like a period for reflection and quiet contemplation for Pietro, time-out from the hectic schedule of his life to deal with the death of his wife, but that isn’t something that Pietro wants to confront, and it’s the fact that he doesn’t want to grieve that troubles him most. And curiously, rather than his dropping out of circulation being a problem in his business and family affairs, his detachment from it all makes him a calm figure at the eye of a storm. Rather than being caught up in the politics of a merger with a large US corporation that his business is involved in, Pietro’s detachment places him in an ideal place for other colleagues to sound out their thoughts and ideas about the deal, and soon they are arriving one-by-one at his bench to challenge, threaten and seek favour depending on where the rumours currently place his influence. Pietro is bemused by the fact that he doesn’t have to do anything, letting events take their own course and others to take his absence and apparent lack of concern however they like. Similarly, Pietro takes a laisser-faire approach to family matters, unwilling to enter into the complications of Lara’s sister Marta’s affairs (Valeria Golino), the complications of his friend’s troubled marriage or feel any rivalry over his brother’s popularity as an unlikely fashion icon.
The quiet chaos then is all around if we step back and look at it dispassionately. For the author of the original novel, it refers to the commotion of the school run, its nature somehow reflecting the patterns, hierarchy and rhythms elsewhere – something that Pietro needs to examine and explore in order to better understand his place in the world. I’m not sure exactly how this works, but it sounds like a convenient literary device rather than a convincing outlook on how to deal with the challenges facing the individual parent in modern society, and Quiet Chaos relies rather heavily on such literary and cinematic formalism in its structure and approach. Early on the teacher introduces the concept of palindromes to the children, and sure enough the film similarly adopts a mirrored structure with repetition of little elements and small events (the saving of a dog towards the end opening up life in a way that the saving of a woman closed it down at the start; the manner in which Pietro "grapples" with Eleonora at the start and end of the film) all creating a central core to the film which operates as a comfort zone that Pietro wraps as a buffer around him.
This is all very clever and is certainly a meaningful structure and approach to the film’s central theme, but it doesn’t really stand up to any serious scrutiny. The business affairs that Pietro shields himself from are rather tedious and confusing, filled with odious characters (a surprising number of excellent big-name French actors are completely wasted here), its purpose proving to be ultimately irrelevant. Likewise the various career concerns, family problems and marriage difficulties are similarly tediously bourgeois and unresolved since, for all its cleverness, for all the lovely little notes it hits on occasion and despite a fine performance from Nanni Moretti, the film’s ultimate purpose is revealed as being nothing more than a banal and unchallenging sugar-coated palliative to the middle-class mid-life crisis, assuring us that we can all take time out from our busy family life and career to rediscover what is really important and miss nothing. The world doesn’t stop if we aren’t there to look after it, it doesn’t alter if one person dies and another is saved, people will get by whether there is a reassuring beep of the car’s locking mechanism or not, and - on a bizarre note that somehow seems to embody the curious and confusing ethic of the film - you might even end up getting a promotion out of it.
Quiet Chaos (Caos Calmo) is released in the UK by New Wave Films. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is coded for Region 2.
Their second DVD release following last month’s Unrelated, New Wave certainly can be seen to have a commitment to putting out quality DVD releases. The video transfer here is excellent and impossible to find any serious fault with. The image is anamorphically enhanced and presented at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it’s progressively encoded and moves relatively smoothly with perhaps only the slightest of motion blurring. There are no flaws on the print and no notable digital artefacts, filtering or enhancements. Colours are slightly subdued with a yellowish tint – most evident in skin tones – but the desaturated look would seem to be a stylistic choice in keeping with the content, the same tones being evident in the trailer included in the extra features.
There is only one audio track included, a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, and no surround option. As far as it goes, it’s fine – clear and strong with a good central focus, it’s only really challenged with the use of the songs on the soundtrack and these come across well.
English subtitles are optional, the font white. On my checkdisc copy of the film there remained fixed Italian subtitles for a couple of brief scenes with French dialogue which proved distracting with the English subtitles superimposed on top of them. I don’t know whether this will be corrected for the final release, but it’s a relatively minor issue.
Three Interviews cover the process of transposing and reworking the book for the screen. Antonello Grimaldi (8:57) considers the title, the themes of the film and his role as a director rather than that of a writer, which is complicated by Nanni Moretti being on board. He discusses influences on specific scenes rather than the film as a whole. Nanni Moretti (3:83) briefly covers his involvement in the adaptation and simplification of the book and his approach as an actor rather than director. He also contributes to the interview with the author Sandro Veronesi (10:54) who talks about how he came to write the book and present it to Moretti as a subject for a film.
The Making of Quiet Chaos (47:07) covers the preparation for the filming of a number of scenes including the beach scene and the sex scene giving some indication of the challenges faced – not least of which is the danger of Nanni Moretti taking over the film. It’s nicely put together with some music, storyboard sequences and rehearsal inserts, and not without interest, but really it’s much too long. There’s also a briefer Behind the Scenes Featurette (9:16) which takes a more technical look at the camera and lighting employed in the film, shows a recording session for the music and gets the director’s view on his concept for using music in the film. A Theatrical Trailer (2:03) is also included.
Structurally, formally and thematically Quiet Chaos is an impressive piece of filmmaking, but whether it has anything of value or originality to say is another matter. Nanni Moretti seems to have found a meaningful central core to the original novel in his screenplay adaptation, and proves to be a strong enough acting presence to carry it through its less-than-interesting business and family affairs. For his part, Antonello Grimaldi’s direction is considered, appropriate and effective, finding a tone and pace in keeping with the film’s themes, bringing indeed a quiet authority and order to the surrounding chaos. But it all feels a bit too controlled - even the passions that are let loose in the controversial sex scene feel like a considered and balanced counterpoint that fulfils a dramatic requirement rather than satisfying a deep emotional need. In presentation terms however, this is a fine release, with an excellent transfer and a strong selection of extra features.