The Movie Waffler New Release Review [MUBI] - BAD TALES | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [MUBI] - BAD TALES

bad tales review
The passive aggression of a suburban Rome community takes a series of increasingly dark turns.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Damiano D'Innocenzo, Fabio D'Innocenzo

Starring: Elio Germano, Barbara Chichiarelli, Gabriel Montesi, Max Malatesta, Ileana D'Ambra, Lino Musella

bad tales poster

Even at their most pessimistic, Italian movies tend to celebrate life. That's what makes Bad Tales, the sophomore feature from filmmaking brothers Damiano and Fabio D'Innocenzo, such a strange viewing experience. Their misanthropic, cynical and confrontational movie presents us with the sort of scenario we expect from Teutonic doom-mongers like Haneke and Seidl, but it all plays against a sunny backdrop among people embracing, or at least chasing something close to the good life.

Set in a middle class community in the suburbs of Rome, Bad Tales revolves around several families, all of whom fall under the designation of "new money." There's Bruno (Elio Germano), who pushes his kids so much that he speaks with mild shame of his daughter for merely getting an A in one subject while hitting straight-As across the rest of her curriculum. His brother Pietro (Max Malatesta) is a social climber who refers to his less ambitious sibling as a "scrounging communist." Residing in a makeshift shack is Amelio (Gabriel Montesi), convinced that some day he'll live in a home behind a picket fence like his neighbours. Also on the lower rungs of the social ladder is pregnant teen Vilma (Ileana D’Ambra), who doesn't exactly come across as a future mother of the year candidate.

bad tales review

A male narrator (Max Tortora) tells us that the events we watch play out are based on a true story inspired by a lie, but that the lie is itself rather uninspired. It's left ambiguous as to whether the narrator is Bruno's shy son Dennis (Tommaso Di Cola) or Geremia (Justin Korovkin), the mentally challenged son of Amelio. The narrator tells us the story is inspired  by a young girl's diary, left suspiciously incomplete, and again there are several candidates as to which of the film's young female characters he might be referring to - Viola (Giulia Melillo), the insular daughter of Pitro; Dennis's younger sister Alessia (Giulietta Rebeggiani); or Dennis's prematurely sexualised neighbour Ada (Laura Borgioli).

Over a sweaty summer and into the beginnings of a school year we watch as the adults of the community tolerate one another in passive aggressive fashion, throwing parties for guests they would rather not have to associate with. When Geremia contracts measles, Viola's mother sends her to spend a day in his presence, hoping the boy will pass the virus onto her daughter. Geremia's father tells his son where he can find "protection" should he need it, but such thoughts are the last thing on the innocent boy's mind. Like measles, adulthood is presented here as a virus being transmitted from the adults to their children. Though they're barely pubescent, the kids here are weighed down with unrealistic and unhealthy expectations regarding school grades and sexual maturity, all by fathers who regret what they view as their own missed youthful opportunities, whether that's getting it on with girls or doing well in school.

bad tales review

The cluelessness of Bad Tales' parents is illustrated in a blackly comic vignette in which Dennis begins choking on a piece of steak. Apparently unfamiliar with the Heimlich manoeuvre, Bruno panics, turning his son upside down as though the offending meat will simply fall out of his throat. Crisis averted, Bruno explodes in a rage because he can no longer enjoy his steak. In Bad Tales, those two great pleasures, food and sex, become tainted, leaving little of life left to enjoy.

Along with the misanthropy of Haneke and Seidl, Bad Tales owes much to the taboo-baiting black comedy of Todd Solondz, particularly in the scenarios the D'Innocenzos fashion around their young protagonists. A failed attempt by Ada to lose her virginity to Dennis leads to uncomfortable laughs when the latter makes excuses for his inability to perform - can you imagine what the curtain twitchers who wanted to ban Cuties would make of such a comic scenario?

bad tales review

Climaxing with not one but two disturbing codas, Bad Tales might easily be accused of simply aiming for cheap shocks. Yet while misanthropy is often the lazy fallback of superficial European filmmakers with little to really say, the D'Innocenzos appear to be commenting on an Italy that's increasingly losing grasp of its joie de vivre as it attempts to compete with its more stoic Northern neighbours. They resolve their film with a father and son sitting on a warm balcony, stuffing mortadella and mozzarella into their faces and proclaiming "to hell with our enemies." After the stuffy suburban horrors we've witnessed, it plays as a moment of beautiful honesty.

Bad Tales is on MUBI UK from February 18th.