The closest kin to Gianni Amelio’s heartbreaking The Keys to the House may be Patrice Chéreau’s Son Frère. The word “kin” is crucial here, because both films are about the nature of family ties. Unlike garbage like Rain Man and The Sea Inside, films that allow big stars to mug for the camera (and Oscar gold), these no-bullshit creations don’t set out to illicit tears with cheap sentiment but honestly explore the way disease stands in the way of people trying to love each other. Though not as ponderous as Aleksandr Sokurov’s Father and Son, Keys to the House similarly feels as if its being telegraphed from a cosmic fugue state, and means to get (and stay) beneath the skin. Indeed, one of the film’s wonders is how Amelio’s oblique compositions, sound cues, and everyone’s hushed whispers and silent pauses create a mood of suspended animation meant to evoke the frustration of familial detachment. Inside a purgatory-like train station, a man negotiates the return of a mentally handicapped child to his biological father, with whom the boy travels to a Berlin hospital. Even though the boy doesn’t seem to understand who this man is (neither does the audience for a good portion of the film), father and son manage to connect amid talk of family, girls, and the boy’s evocative obsession with numbers. Amelio doesn’t display Andrea Rossi for his audience like some sideshow attraction—some saccharine Tiny Tim who falls to the ground every so often and makes googly eyes at the camera. Here, the difficulty of a handicapped boy’s life is simply and gracefully understood, which means Amelio is able to focus almost entirely on the toll this takes on family. “Prepare yourself for suffering,” says Nicole (Charlotte Rampling) to Paolo’s father Gianni (an outstanding Kim Rossi Stuart, whose affection for his on-screen son is a constant source of wonder). The mother of a mentally handicapped child herself, Nicole seems—like the film—“serene” to Gianni, except it’s obvious that a certain terror lurks beneath. Just as Amelio eloquently explores the reasons why people become authority figures in Stolen Children, here he dissects the very difficult emotions that exist between parents and their crippled children. In one of the most outstanding scenes you’ll see in any film this year, Rampling’s character stares into the camera for what seems like an eternity before divulging to Gianni that she sometimes wishes her daughter would simply die. The film’s honesty is blistering, not so much because Amelio’s characters are allowed to be selfish but because he seems to evoke the impossible: that love can sometimes hurt like hell.
- Gianni Amelio
- Gianni Amelio, Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli
- Kim Rossi Stuart, Charlotte Rampling, Andrea Rossi, Alla Faerovich, Pierfrancesco Favino
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: