The Impressionistic, Fantastical Cinematic Self-Portrait
by Erica Abeel, August 20, 2004

It takes chutzpah to ask viewers to empathize with a heroine who suffers from an excess of money. Yet in her enthralling first feature, director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (who also plays the poor little rich girl) does just that, making us root for thirtysomething Federica, a guilt-ridden heiress who drives her silver Porsche to church to confess her sin of obscene wealth. Bruni Tedeschi pulls off this sleight of hand through her sure command of an impressionistic style flecked with oddball humor, a seamless weave of reality and fantasy — including animated sequences, and flashbacks from childhood, both imagined and factual. In Federica, Bruni Tedeschi has created an indelible persona — clownish and vulnerable, and somewhat reminiscent of Giulietta Masina — though more physically luscious. As well, on some unvoiced level, the heroine’s malaise over her bucks taps into the viewer’s sentiment that the guilt might be justified.

Well-known in Europe as an actress, Bruni Tedeschi joins a company of gifted French female directors that includes Palme d’Or winner Agnes Jaoui, Anne Fontaine, Julie Lopes Curval, and Julie Bertucelli. Though I’m on shaky ground in saying this, she shares with them a distinctively feminine sensibility: a gaze trained on male petulance and entitlement; a gentle style lacking in bombast; a broody tenderness toward the characters and recognition of human fragility. However, Bruni Tedeschi, who collaborated on the screenplay with stated mentor Noemie Lvovsky, adds a new wrinkle: the film is a self-portrait, a kind of cinematic memoir reportedly based on her own family, who emigrated to France in the seventies, to flee the rash of kidnappings in Italy (memorably recalled in the recent “I’m Not Scared.”) Boosting the autobiographical tone, Marysa Borini, the director’s real mother, plays Federica’s mom.

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