Entrapped in Italy: "The Interval" and "A Special Day"

in 69th Venice Film Festival

by Cüneyt Cebenoyan

Two Italian films — one in the main competition, the other in the Orizzonti — have similar structures which reveal something about the current state of Italian society. The film in the Orizzonti section is ”The Interval” (”L’intervallo”), co-written by Maurizio Braucci of “Gomorra” fame and directed by Leonardo di Costanzo.  Set in Naples, ”The Interval” tells the story of a young couple trapped in a huge abandoned building. The boy is a street vendor who works with his father; the girl is a neighbourhood beauty who happens to be involved with a gang member from the other hood. In the eyes of the Camorra, to fall in love with the ‘enemy’ is a crime that cannot be forgiven. So the girl is taken to an abandoned building to wait for the gang boss to come and talk to her, and the boy is ordered to guard her and prevent her escape. At first they do not trust each other: for the girl, the boy represents her captors. But the boy is actually not part of the mob. He is just as much a captive as the girl. If he allows her to leave he will be in great trouble. But as they spend the whole day together waiting for the mobster to come, they develop a friendship, maybe even love. However, when the mobster arrives, their dreams must be crushed. The mobster sets the rules and imposes who can and cannot be loved. There is no freedom in a society where those who have power dictate the limits of freedom.

Interestingly, we find a similar structure in the film ”A Special Day” (”Un giorno speciale”), directed by Francesca Comencini. Like ”The Interval”, this film takes place over the course of one day and tells the story of a young man and woman who must wait for the ‘powerful one’. As in ”The Interval”, the young woman starts off defensive but begins to loosen up. In Rome, Marco is the driver for a congressman; it is his first day on the job. He is very proud of himself and the car he drives. Gina is a beautiful acting student. Both young people are from poor families, like the protagonists of the previous film. Marco takes Gina to the congressman who will help her with showbiz contacts. But something unexpected happens; the congressman is busy and postpones the meeting again and again. So Marco and Gina find themselves trapped together in the car. Of course, their entrapment is not as grave as that of the young couple in ”The Interval”; they can drive around the city, stopping at different places to have fun. But this is an involuntary situation and their fate is in the hands of the powerful politician. During the day the young protagonists start a kind of relationship, they kiss and share some intimate moments with each other. But as in ”The Interval”, at the end of the day they must face the bitter truth. The congressman finally meets the girl and shows her who is in charge. It proves that the girl is not the owner of her own body, or her own love.

What do the very similar structures of these films tell us about Italy? Certainly there is a feeling of entrapment, a feeling of not being free. Even the love of a young couple seems to be hindered by the powers that be. The situation for the women is certainly worse. Women are rendered as sexual objects by men who are in power. There is no democracy for the poor and the powerless, although the rebellion of Marco at the end of ”A Special Day” may indicate that the times are changing.

Edited by Lesley Chow