“Intrepido: A Lonely Hero” is a strange little film, and it’s
likely to be considered so both by viewers who know and those who don’t know
the work of Gianni Amelio. For those unfamiliar with the Italian auteur’s career,
it might seem odd that an American distributor would import this lumpy,
unaffecting tale of a Milanese Everyman who substitutes for other workers in an
endless series of menial jobs. For viewers aware of Amelio masterworks such as
“Open Doors,” “Stolen Children” and “Lamerica,” on the other hand, the
puzzlement will lie in wondering how the creator of those magisterial films
would end up turning out this curious trifle.
In the film’s opening minutes, we see Antonio Pane (Antonio
Albanese) wearing a hard hat while working on a Milan high-rise construction
site, where there’s talk of immigrant labor and the ineffectualness of unions.
That’s the morning. By afternoon, Antonio is wearing a lion costume and trying
to entertain spoiled kids at a shopping mall. Come evening, he’s pasting
posters on billboards and being threatened by thuggish competitors.
Multiple jobs in one day? What gives?
We soon learn: Antonio is a “fill-in.” He fills in for
workers who for any reason can’t perform their jobs. As we see him move from
one task to another, in what’s obviously a thankless routine, it gradually
emerges that he has only two significant relationships, and there’s a degree of
trouble on both fronts.
The person closest to him is his son Ivo (Gabriele Rendina),
a jazz saxophonist. Ivo regularly visits
Antonio and takes care of him in ways that make it almost seem that the boy
is the parental figure and dad the needy dependent. But Ivo’s life isn’t
otherwise placid. Though talented, he has a case of stage nerves and a
reputation for unreliability that threaten his promising career.
Antonio’s other intimate, Lucia (Livia Rossi), is a young
woman he meets while they’re both taking a standardized test (for what we’re
never told). She looks completely at sea, so he passes her the answers, and a
brittle friendship is born. But she’s hardly a cheerful or romantic companion.
Beclouded by various worries, she seems on a downward psychological spiral that
Antonio will be hard-pressed to reverse.
As this loose-knit tale unfolds, its most curious aspect is
how disconnected its episodes feel, a quality that grows even more pronounced
in its second half. It’s as if Amelio had a hatful of note cards with ideas for
scenes, threw them in the air, and stuck them in the final script in whatever
order they hit the floor. Some seem entirely arbitrary.
One example: Antonio is assigned by a shady gym boss to look
after a boy who appears about 10 years old. He takes the kid to a park and
tries to amuse him with jokes and chat, but the boy won’t talk. Eventually a
man appears and the boy goes off with him. What’s happened here? Has Antonio
played an unsuspecting role as a pedophile’s procurer? The scene vaguely evokes
the concern for child abuse in other Amelio films, but here it’s never
explained; it connects with nothing around it.
In the films that earned him an international reputation,
Amelio seemed like an inheritor of the Italian neorealists, a powerful and
confident stylist who nonetheless turned away from the aestheticism of
directors such as Antonioni and Bertolucci to focus on social problems, often
from an angle that might be called conservative-humanist. But “Intrepido”
hardly seems like an attempt to seriously probe contemporary labor discontents;
it’s too whimsical and aleatory. So what was Amelio’s plug-in point for this
It’s been reported that he wanted to work with Albanese, a
popular comic actor, and “Intrepido” does make a certain amount of sense as a
way for the director to showcase a favorite performer. The story’s random
trajectory plays like a series of skits for the actor, more than a
conventionally focused story. Also, there’s an obvious attempt to evoke the
Chaplin of “Modern Times” (one sequence even ends with an iris-in). Yet it
can’t be said that any of this adds up to slapstick merriment, much less clever
satire. Amelio’s outlook is naturally grave; comedy is not in his genes; and if
he’d wanted to work with an actor who could provide actual hilarity, he’d have
been better off with an antic clown like Roberto Benigni.
What comes across as genuine in the film, and might also
help explain its origins, is its air of melancholy and loneliness. The film’s
Milan is not just a vision of wintry industrial anomie; it also feels like a
place where people inhabit the same space but never touch each other. A space
that’s more the inside of one man’s head than an actual city, in other words.
“Intrepido,” the title Amelio gave the film, refers to a
publication from his childhood. “A Lonely Hero,” supplied by the film’s
importers, is a rather clunky addition, but it does evoke the interior feel of
the film. “Colpire al Cuore,” Amelio’s brilliant debut film of 1982, provided a
scathing critique of bourgeois leftist radicals, yet it was also a depiction of
a very solitary and alienated young man, and the suggestion of self-portraiture
was inescapable. “Intrepido” may be a similar look in the mirror, yet here the
face the artist sees is old, not young, and his world not so susceptible to