Night Bus

Night Bus
Night Bus

Aka Notturno bus
Original running length: 104 mins
Italy / Poland
Based on the novel by Giampiero Rigosi (ed. Einaudi Stile Libero)
Produced by Sandro Silvestri and Mauro Vespini for Emme, RAI cinema, ASP, Vision Distribution
Distributed by 01 Distribution
Release date: 11-05-2007
Director: Davide Marengo
Story: Maura Vespini, Isotta Toso, Cesare Cicardini, Maria Grazia Perria  Screenplay: Giampiero Rigosi, Fabio Bonifaci
Cinematography: Arnaldo Catinari
Music: Gabriele Coen & Mario  Rivera
Editor: Patrizio Marone
Art director: Anna Forletta
Cast: Valerio  Mastandrea (Franz), Giovanna  Mezzogiorno (Leila), Ennio  Fantastichini (Matera), Anna  Romantowska (Sonia), Roberto  Citran (Diolaiuti), Francesco  Pannofino (Garofano), Ivan  Franek (Andrea), Antonio  Catania (Bergamini), Iaia  Forte (Sig.ra Garofano), Marcello  Mazzarella (the painter), Mario  Rivera (Titti), Paolo  Calabresi (Paolo), Manuela  Morabito (Babe), Massimo  De Santis (Leo), Renato  Nicolini (Tassinari), Alice  Palazzi (Betta), Marek  Barbasiewicz (the president)

Just in case you thought that the only things they made in Italy nowadays are light comedies and sincere dramas, here’s a neat comedy-crime film which isn’t too dissimilar to the kinds of releases that have been coming out of the US and UK in recent years.  A Polish – Italian co-production, Night Bus is a fast paced, highly enjoyable movie which was made for about $3.5 million, a decent if not extravagant budget, part financed by RAI.

Ennio Fantastichini in Night Bus
Ennio Fantastichini in Night Bus

Franz (Valerio Mastandrea), a hapless bus driver on the airport route, has a lot of problems: he doesn’t have any friends or money, hasn’t had a girlfriend for as long as anyone can remember and has a increasingly irascible thug on his back about a bad gambling debt.  And his life manages to take a turn for the (even) worse when he picks up Leila (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), a beautiful passenger who is in some distress.  Leila, you see, is a thief, who – through a particularly convoluted set of circumstances – has managed to accidentally steal a highly valuable microchip, and there are some extremely dangerous men on her trail who want to get it back.  On the one hand there’s the softly spoken Matera (Ennio Fantastichini), an old school former intelligence agent who’s working for the microchip’s wealthy owner; on the other there are Garofano (Francesco Pannofino) and Diolaiti (Roberto Citran), a pair of psychopaths who are working for god knows who.

Naturally enough, Franz and Leila soon strike up an extremely uneasy alliance, not least because Leila is looking for a safe place to lay low without any connection to her previous life.  But the bad guys want the microchip back, and they’re willing to go to any lengths necessary in order to get it back.

Night Bus is a funny thriller, with some genuinely amusing moments, a contemporary feel and a cool soundtrack.  It reminded me a lot of two other recent Italian films: Il cura del Gorilla, a highly recommended comedy thriller from 2006 starring Claudio Bisio and Ernst Borgnine and The Consequences of Love, with which it shares a fascination for clinically modern settings (trendy bars and hotels which are almost always empty, car parks, an airport) and a character who is planning to double cross his employers, spends most of his time alone and is connected to other people mainly through his mobile phone.  It’s not quite as well written as the former, not as clever or well made as the latter, but still stands as an enjoyable, decently made film in its own right.

Valerio Mastandrea & Giovanna Mezzogiorno in Night Bus
Valerio Mastandrea & Giovanna Mezzogiorno in Night Bus

Curiously, it’s actually stronger during the first half, before the two protagonists join forces and strike up their unlikely romance; it’s not that this is badly handled, more that it interrupts the action, which in the meantime becomes a series of sometimes repetitive chase sequences.  But there’s a great bus chase, and it all builds up to a surprisingly tense, impressive climax.  Director Davide Merengo handles his duties well; a former maker of documentaries and shorts, in recent years he’s turned his hand to TV series, handling episodes of the popular Il commissario Manara and Boris.  It also boasts some classy cinematography from Arnaldo Catinari (who also shot The Caiman (2006), The Demons of St. Petersburg (2008) and Imago Mortis (2009) amongst others) and a good soundtrack from Gabriele Coen and Mario Rivera (who also features as a massive debt collector).

The cast is also good.  Giovanna Mezzogiorno is very beatiful and likeable as the thoroughly untrustworthy heroine, and it’s not at all surprising that she’s gone on to become one of the biggest actresses of her generation. Valerio Mastandrea, a new name to me, makes for an engagingly hangdog hero (he’s also appeared in Florent Emilio Siri’s The Nest (02) and Alex Infascelli’s Il siero della vanità (04), amongst other films).  And in support there are busy character actors like Ivan Franek and Marcello Mazzarella and Francesco Pannofino (who reminds me a lot of a more manic Mario Adorf).

Look out for it, and try to see it before it’s remade with Clive Owen and Angelina Jolie!

Here’s the trailer:

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