As in Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blind Chance (or its successor, Sliding Doors, if you're more into Gwyneth Paltrow), Alessandro Aronadio's One Life, Maybe Two presents the multiple paths a life takes based on the results of one diverging event, in this case a minor car accident. Chance alone determines whether the collision actually happens—will the brakes work or not?—with the aftermath of each outcome leading to two very different lives for Matteo (Lorenzo Balducci), a gardener and all-around good friend to his buddy Sandro (Riccardo Cicogna), who he was rushing to the hospital when the fender bender occurs (or nearly occurs). The two timelines share most of the same characters, but the accident displaces relationships, memories, and even personal morals depending on which parallel universe you happen to be in. Using a plot device as aggressive as split narratives in an independent, non-genre film is quite a gamble for Aronadio; most audiences are skeptical and ready to criticize the usage of such a gimmick, making it a much harder sell for the director, but while One Life, Maybe Two isn't the strongest or most poignant example of the branching-universes concept, the film develops enough emotion and character to elevate it well beyond a cheap trick.
The film features only two parallel scenarios, as opposed to the three of Blind Chance and its structural stepchild Run Lola Run, and they're presented simultaneously, avoiding the seemingly inherent flaw in telling the stories in succession (the final scenario tends to be the "right" one). Lazy writers and directors in this situation resort to broad characterization and blatant storytelling to make it obvious which universe they want you to cheer for, but Aronadio wisely sidesteps this by making his two stories feel more like mathematical reciprocals than moral or thematic opposites; there are enough joys and pitfalls on both sides to equal each other out. It's not a movie out to advocate any specific choices that its protagonist makes, and it doesn't get preachy about the ramifications of every decision, instead stepping back to objectively present Matteo as merely a case study.
By the time Aronadio's two scenarios converge (cleverly, with a touch of Donnie Darko), you get the sense that the two Matteos have both reached the same point in their respective lives despite the diverging paths, breaking the director's objective stance. He dumps chance in favor of inevitability; regardless of the circumstances, a person will eventually find their way to the same emotional and mental plateaus. The director isn't promoting the notion of fate, but rather denying the impact of chance, and the only thing I take issue with is his apparent timidity in asserting his conclusion. You can piece it together if you pay close enough attention to the emotional states of the two Matteos (difficult when the film takes long breaks from any given timeline), but there's very little indication that Aronadio is making this point consciously, so conceivably, one could easily mistake it for an unintentional message, or they could even miss the message entirely. A little more boldness from him would not only be appropriate, but would benefit a film that already has a lot going for it.
One Life, Maybe Two will play on June 5 and 8 as part of this year's Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. For details about the festival, including ticketing information, click here.