Running length: 90 mins
35 MM (1:1.85) – Technicolor
A Sandro Frezza, Sergio Bernardi, Ferdinando Vicentini Orgnani production for A.L.B.A. Produzioni
Distributed by Mediaplex
Italian release date: 18-04-2008
Director: Andrea Papini
Story & screenplay: Andrea Papini, Gualtiero Rosella
Cinematography: Benjamin Nathaniel Minot
Music: Susanna Stivali, Fabrizio Bondi
Editor: Maurizio Baglivo
Art director: Alessandro Rosa
Cast: Patrick Bauchau (Rinaldo), Peppino Mazzotta (Mario), Beatrice Orlandini (Beatrice)
La velocità della luce is an obscure little Italian thriller that had a limited Italian theatrical release in 2008. Unfortunately, it never had any kind of international distribution, even on the festival circuit, so the only way it can be seen is in an unsubtitled Italian version, which does make understanding some of the dialogue and nuances a little harder for English language speakers.
Mario (Peppino Mazzotta), a professional car thief, spends his time travelling up and down the highways, scouting out new cars to steal and trying to stave off his hypochondria by talking to his girlfriend, Beatrice (Beatrice Orlandini), on the mobile phone. When he’s overtaken by a fancy Bentley being driven by a slightly sinister elderly gentleman, Rinaldo (Patrick Bauchau), he thinks he’s spotted his next target and starts tailing it.
It’s a good plan, but it all goes wrong when they get caught up in a fire in a long tunnel; after suffering a panic attack, Mario has to be helped out by Rinaldo, who doesn’t take log to figure out just what the younger man is up to. He doesn’t seem overly perturbed, though, and the two of them even head off for a bite to eat together, before parting from each other on convivial terms. But just why do the two of them seem to keep on bumping into each other? And what possible reason is there for the stash of surgical equipment that Rinaldo keeps in his boot? Meanwhile, both of them are unknowingly being tailed by Beatrice who, bored with her mundane life, has decided to embark upon an adventure.
With its almost constant scenes of people driving around in fancy cars, sense of existential angst and a distinctly weird relationship between the three protagonists, this feels a lot like some of the cool noirs that were popular in the late 60s / early 70s. There are echoes of Vanishing Point and Two-Lane Blacktop, not to mention Road Games and The Hitcher. Almost all of the film is made up of Mario and Rinaldo driving through the open countryside, enclosed in their own private worlds, occasionally stopping off at a garage or a hotel; pursuing each other for miles on end without any good reason events come to a head in a subtly grotesque climax.
Made for very, very limited finances (just €650,000), this is obviously not an expensive film, and sometimes the production values do falter. But first time director Andrea Papini manages to handle the lack of finances by limiting the number of performers and locations and shooting on digital, managing to give the production a stylish look – including a deliberate use of backdrops in the driving scenes – that completely belies the budget. He also manages to inveigh it all with a compulsive, crepuscular atmosphere which means that, although it’s hardly fast moving, it works very well as a slice of ambient noir.
Some Italian critics drew attention to Patrick Bauchau’s rather strange vocal delivery, which seems remote to the point of negligibility, but it actually works rather well given the nature of his character. Fans of Italian cinema may remember him from Dario Argento’s Phenomena (84), but he’s had a long and varied career working in numerous countries on both film and television. Peppino Mazzotta and Beatrice Orlandini are less experienced, but do a creditable job, and the quality of the performances gives the whole film a sense of quality often absent from productions of a similar scale.
La velocità della luce isn’t perfect: It’s not quite as cool or as clever as it wants to be, and the pacing flags at times, indicating it could have done with being five or ten minutes shorter. But it’s a fine effort nonetheless, and deserves to be much more widely seen than it is.