The sluggish economy has, in recent years, inspired films about upper-middle-class types grappling with unemployment. Laurent Cantet's "Time Out" offered a metaphysical meditation on the nature of vocation, while Costa-Gavras's "Le Couperet" took a more satirical approach. The two movies are vastly different, but they share a common viewpoint: Work not only provides financial stability, but also a source of pride and identity.
Silvio Soldini's "Days and Clouds," which opens in the city on Friday, paints what is possibly the most observant and starkly realistic portrait to date on this subject, and is every bit as profound as its aforementioned predecessors.
Elsa (Margherita Buy) has just earned a doctorate in art history. Her husband, Michele (Antonio Albanese), throws her a lavish party that includes a live band to provide accompaniment to the drunken karaoke. Art-house patrons should immediately recognize this mix of highbrow sophistication and bourgeois excess, but a rude awakening awaits both Elsa and the audience.
The morning after the party, Michele announces that he has been out of work for two months. He had kept this news from Elsa so as not to interfere with her dissertation, but she nonetheless finds it completely irresponsible. The two must learn to surrender their upper-middle-class lifestyle. That means her art restoration project, his boat, their cushy apartment, and the maid all must go. Before long, necessity dictates that the couple start working menial jobs such as telemarketer and courier.
More so than other recent films on the subject, "Days and Clouds," which opens in the city on Friday, attempts to show how ordinary people take practical steps to deal with a violent financial wake-up call. Mr. Soldini, who made the 2001 sleeper hit "Bread and Tulips," has thoughtfully fashioned a human interest story out of current events by creating wholly believable characters and scenarios.
Mr. Albanese, best-known for his comedic routines in Italy, delivers a captivating dramatic turn here. In the hands of the wrong actor, Michele would be little more than simply pathetic. But Mr. Albanese strikes a dexterous balance of dignity, stubbornness, anger, and vulnerability. It's rare and refreshing to watch a performance so nuanced, restrained, and amazingly human that it can make you care about, and even relate to, a flawed and not entirely likeable character.
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"Eight Miles High," also opening Friday, isn't the story of the Byrds or any of the musical acts that covered the eponymous 1966 song written by Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn, and David Crosby. Rather, it's a biopic about Uschi Obermaier, the former German model who found herself in the middle of the sexual revolution and allegedly gave Mick Jagger and Keith Richards plenty of satisfaction. Reminiscent of the Edie Sedgwick biopic "Factory Girl," "Eight Miles High" is noteworthy only for its ability to name-drop.
The film, directed and co-written by Achim Bornhak, tracks Ms. Obermaier, who is played by Natalia Avelon, from rebellious small-town girl to free-loving hippie, from a cover girl specializing in easy, breezy nudes to groupie extraordinaire. Her life seems to have been utterly vacuous, and it's difficult, judging by Mr. Bornhak's film, to decipher just what her appeal was. It won't give you the slightest clue as to why Messrs. Jagger and Richards might have fought over her, but you'll certainly hear their names worshipfully uttered more times than contestants on VH1's "Rock of Love" can squeeze out "Bret" in the same time span.
Sadly, Ms. Avelon's pouty, hair-sprayed look doesn't make up for her lack of range. In fact, you'll hardly notice that the story spans two decades, because her appearance does not change at all from start to finish.