Saturn in Opposition (Saturno contro)

Courtesy photo
Ferzan Ozpetek/Italy 2007

Italian movies excel at depicting groups of friends sticking together through thick and thin. Classics such as Federico Fellini’s I Vitelloni and Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura center around six or eight young people who’ve known each other forever. More recently there was The Best of Youth, a captivating seven-hour – and not a minute too long – exploration of the lives of two brothers and their family of friends. The newest in this genre is Saturn in Opposition (Saturno contro). The title is an astrological term for a time of great upheaval and change.

Of the circle of friends, Roberta (Ambra Angiolini) is into astrology. She works for Lorenzo (Luca Argentero), whose partner is writer Davide (Pierfrancesco Favino), who had a thing with Angelica (Margherita Buy) before she married Antonio (Stefano Accorsi), who is having an affair. Also in the circle are Davide’s former partner Sergio (Ennio Fantastichini), Neval the translator (Serra Yilmaz), her husband Roberto (Filippo Timi), and Paolo (Michelangelo Tommaso), who fancies Davide. They meet up regularly to drink and talk and worry about each other, confiding secrets, lending money, bringing cakes and champagne to each other’s houses.

Without giving it away, something bad happens to Lorenzo. The last good time is so blatantly telegraphed as to lose its emotional punch. That said, it’s affecting as the film becomes an examination of how a tight-knit group copes in crisis. It’s firmly grounded in everyday reality, but the waiting in the hospital corridor never becomes mundane, not least because their lives keep right on happening. At one stage, when too many people show up to comfort him, Davide asks, “No one had to go to work today?” In another scene, the whole gang has gone out for some air; a woman behind their group makes a phone call. She’s not subtitled, but it’s obvious she gets bad news. Her frantic conversation freezes their distracted chit-chat; as the camera circles, they bolt as one.

What’s puzzling about this film is that the group dynamic never changes despite all this upheaval. It’s well directed, paced and intelligently acted, but there is something a little too tidy about Saturn in Opposition. The only recurring motif, the circling camera shots, emphasizes their closeness and community. Teeth need to be brushed even in the face of catastrophe, but these people and their friendships seem so capable as to be nearly bloodless. There are few tears, no tantrums and not one weepy close-up. Is that admirable restraint, or repressive determination to pretend nothing is wrong? Even the metaphor of the title seems without significance, although perhaps astrology buffs will understand some deeper meaning.

When most films are built around a journey of some kind going from A to B, whether on a road trip or in a personal experience, Ozpetek’s direction rejects that structure completely to emphasize togetherness and resistance to change. It’s an unusual filmic perspective. But why tell the story without providing the hook to become emotionally attached to these people? Without that point of entry it’s like sitting in a group where everyone else knows the inside jokes. You can have an OK time, but you won’t feel like you belong, and you’re not sorry to leave. It’s like that with this film.

© 2007 Sarah Manvel. All rights reserved.

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