A dark and funny thriller that exposes the Argentine upper classes as a more elegant but no less brutal mafia, efficiently and ruthlessly organising their criminal activities for the rapacious enrichment of a few families. Dario Levi is Federal Judge Alberto Franccioni. As the film begins, we’re told his daughter needs to get a new kidney or she will die. He’s willing to pay a million for the kidney and go to Orlando for the transplant so the kid can visit Disneyland during her convalescnence. ‘She wants to go to Disney in Orlando instead of Paris?’ fumes the grandmother, who blames her ex-daughter-in-law, a low class blackmailing junky for the lapse in taste.
As the day progresses Alberto is harassed by all kinds pressing concerns, domestic and professional: someone in his staff has stolen a Serrano ham and he needs to figure out who it is; his daughter’s birthday is coming up and he’s got to make arrangements; his ex is trying to blackmail him; his sister is cheating on her husband with his nephew’s music teacher (‘Oh no’ says the grandmother, when she hears another of her grandchildren has descended into the popular and vulgar by exchanging learning violin on a Stradivarius for a guitar lessons, ‘we’ve become a family of guitarreros); he’s been asked to run for Vice-Governor of the Province but so has his millionaire neighbour – should he accept? And if so how to remove his friend from the candidacy without leaving an imprint and continuing on good terms?
Like Tony Sorprano, Francionni is harangued at home but all ruthless smarts in the workplace; he has the music teacher violently dealt with, finds out about the ham, plots the destruction of his competing political candidate and consults his mother, the true Don of the family, as to whether to accept an offer of Vice Governor of the Province. ‘A Vice-Governor is merely the employee of a more ambitious person. You have to aim for President!’ The film is beautifully directed by Bertini, who is not afraid to hold his shots in lengthy medium close-ups on the faces of his extraordinary actors and depicting a brutal, familial world as sordid as it is elegant with a minimum of means and to maximum effect.
Labia is a very funny, insightful film, held together by an extraordinary central performance by Levi: the humour and suspicion by which he tries to sniff out the information he needs from people too scared to be truthful is fantastically entertaining. The film also boast an an equally great performance by Elena Boggan, who makes of Alberto’s mother a Lady MacBeth of a matriarch, if Lady McBeth could be at equal ease with all of the world’s sophisticated pleasures whilst leaving her conscience unpricked by power’s most brutish necessities. The ending is a cop-out that somewhat spoils what is otherwise an insightful and entertaining film.
Seen at the Festival des films du monde, Montreal, September 2015