The notion that authors live in concert with their characters gets a new spin in Giuseppe Piccioni’s pitch perfect and captivating drama Giulia Doesn’t Date at Night (Giulia non esce la sera). In this case the author is Guido (Valerio Mastandrea), a writer short-listed for an Italian book award, father of an adolescent girl and husband to a beautiful woman. He lives a good life, if by “good” youare willing to exclude the many double standards that are needed to sustain it.In many ways, Guido is a walking hypocrisy: he says he loves his wife, but finds every opportunity to not spend time with her; he implies that he dislikes the limelight of being an acclaimed author, but is vain enough to engage in the preposterous consideration process of the book award (the descriptions of Italy’s literally world is extremely funny and keenly observed); he is judgmental towards the works of his peers, but is himself working on two new projects that are both ridiculous and full of clichés (one is about a forlorn man that falls in love with a beautiful girl in an umbrella store).
Into this life of lies enters the stunning Giulia (Valeria Golino). She is the swimming teacher of Guido’s daughter, but soon ends up teaching Guido instead. Golino plays Giulia with a fascinating mix of lifelessness and intensity. Her eyes are blank, but also full of ache and yearning. Guido (and the audience) are mesmerized. He wants to take her out, but Giulia doesn’t date at night.
The concept of a female murder convict was explored with great accuracy in Philippe Claudel’s impressive debut I’ve Loved You So Long (Il y longtempsqueje t’aime, 2008). But though thatfilm (propelled by Kristin Scott Thomas’ remarkable performance) depicted with immense empathy the estrangement and exclusion from society that murderers have to deal with, it landed morally on the safe and unambiguous side. The protagonist was, in the end, ethically innocent. Not so with Giulia who it turns out can’t date at night because she is in jail for the murder of her former lover, an affair she chose instead of her husband and daughter. Some would likely get turned off getting to know such shocking information, but Guido, sparked by a mix of authorial curiosity, boredom, desire and belief in his own ability to help, is intrigued. Soon they date at high noon instead of at night due to the prison’s curfew restrictions.
For us to believe Guido’s curious choice of extramarital lover, it helps that Valeria Golino is a beautiful woman. And yet we still have difficulties questioning the stupidity and destructiveness of it all. Giulia is as vulnerable as she is tough; emotionally zealous and drained at the same time. Guido feels empowered and enlivened by her dependence on him, and is inspired to use her story as material for his new book, which he has been struggling to write for a while. Where Guido’s life is based on deception (both professionally and emotionally), Giulia has no lies left to tell. Her only way to deal with the world is by hoping it will meet her honesty and regret with kindness and understanding.
For all of these reasons – and the fact that they come from complete different class backgrounds – there is an immense power chasm in their relationship. As with most things in his life, Guido has problems realizing his responsibilities and seeing the consequences of his interactions with other people. Meeting a woman both as tough and as precarious as Giulia looks like a disaster in the making, but director Piccioni makes sure it’s the sheer beauty of it that we notice.
Edited by: Glenn Dunks
© FIPRESCI 2009