The trailer for Vivere piqued my interest immediately. Stuffed with gorgeous urban cinematography and gorgeous earthy women from three generations, it seemed like a potent jolt of pure cinema. A lot of the imagery—of three females brooding, bitching and bonding—was favorably reminiscent of other recent arthouse classics. Yet Vivere also seemed as if it would offer its own distinct surprises. Well, that trailer was a clever deception.
Vivere the feature film feels like an unhappy collaboration between the world’s most chic arthouse miserablists. I would have guessed that Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and Guillermo Arriaga (Babel) worked on the scrambled, rewinding narrative, while Paul Haggis (Crash) loaded in the plot’s absurd coincidences. Maybe Lukas Moodysson (Together) provided the drizzly teen angst that eventually flowers into hope. And perhaps Lynne Ramsay lorded over the film’s cinematographer to get that pulsating-veins Morvern Callar intimacy into virtually every shot.
Even if writer-director Angelina Macarrone cites none of these filmmakers as an influence, Vivere plays like a demonstration exercise for How to Sucker an Arthouse Audience. The flick doubles back on itself several times to tie three troubled Rotterdam females to, yes lord, a car accident. (The American remake will be called Crash: European Style.) Late middle-aged Gerlinda (Hannelore Elsner) spirals into depression after an ill-fated lesbian affair with a married woman and nearly kills herself in a car accident. Her roadside rescuer, twenty-something German-Italian taxi driver Francesca (Esther Zimmering), spirals into depression after falling in unrequited love with Gerlinda at first sight. But Francesca must put her feelings aside, as she’s in the midst of searching for her runaway little sister, Antoinetta (Kim Schnitzer). Antoinetta, too, has a connection to the car crash, in one of several eye-rolling coincidences.
Judith Kaufmann’s shadowy cinematography and Elsner’s heartbreaking performance nearly overcome the film’s tendency to wallow lazily in its moods. Strange: Somehow when, say, a Claire Denis or a Wong Kar-wai indulges such stylized moping it tends to enthrall, but, even with its looping narrative, Vivere is pretty straightforward, unsurprising stuff. Macarrone seems to have pulled a lot from the catalogue of art flick touches: a symbolic child-angel; a woman who assuages her grief by drunkenly offering herself to some horny dolt, sobbing all the way; the scene where all three protagonists lay on their backs, gaze up at the stars and spout some pretty obvious/dopey poetic observations about their lot in life. Macarrone is a gifted visual stylist and keen director of actors, but Vivere gives the impression that she’s far too in love with the “poetry” of her own screenplay, which is often a notch below Hallmark.
Steven Boone is a New York-based critic and filmmaker, a contributor to Vinyl Is Heavy and the publisher of the pop culture blog Big Media Vandalism.