Money makes the world go round in Days and Clouds, a darling relationship drama that probes our collective fears about financial instability with an almost profoundly empathetic detachment, achieving a level of naturalism without suffocating the material in a shroud of jittery stylistic nonsense. Suggesting The Pursuit of Happyness sans fantasy whitewashing, Silvio Soldini’s film regards its subjects so plainly (read: honestly) that it isn’t until well into the narrative that its simple yet spiritually attuned potency becomes fully apparent. A series of bad business negotiations sees middle-aged Michele (Antonio Albanese) phased out of the company he helped establish when he was 20, forcing both he and his wife Elsa (Margherita Buy) to depart their comfortable nest atop the social ladder for more affordable accommodations. Transplanted from their lavish and maid-catered home to an unkempt one-bedroom apartment, it becomes clear how much these people are defined by their possessions and surroundings, and similarly, how well Days and Clouds understands the impact things as routine as a working schedule can have on an entire life.
Finances remain the number one reason for marital unhappiness in America and the same can be said for Italy based on what’s seen here, as Michele and Elsa gnash and tear at each other as much as the invisible social fabrics binding them, reluctantly adjusting to their newfound place and inadvertently alienating their more well-endowed friends, lest their humiliation becomes public (all the while oblivious to the charity that practically knocks at their door). Buried just beneath the surface is a Marxist allegory just waiting to break out (such as the revelation that Michele’s emphasis on employee benefits played a part in his termination), albeit one rendered all the stronger via its implicit presence in the narrative, the conveyed subtlety of which is almost praise-worthy in its reliance on inferred details and unspoken emotions to build an emotional resonance free of didactic manipulation. One scene, in which Elsa’s car breaks down in the middle of the highway, feels cloying until it becomes clear that it isn’t building to anything more—just another bump in the road.
Slightly overlong, Days and Clouds saves the best for last, summarizing itself like a shot of adrenaline in an astonishing final scene, the compact life lessons of which are best saved for each viewer to discover on their own. Similarly precise and memorable, though, is the anecdote Michele shares after a failed job interview. Among his interrogative questions is this thought: “How big should the slice of life dedicated to work be?” His reply: “Depends on the cake.”