If Only (Magari)
For children, the idea of “magari” is one of possibility, speculation and fantasy. If only parents stayed together; if only the family unit was resolute; if only their care and attention was constant, unqualified. Ginevra Elkann’s debut feature acknowledges real life as that which cuts through these daydreams and explodes the torpor of repetition. A couple falls apart; one chooses the Boheme, the other the Church. To hope they will redraw vows of matrimony is folly and wishful thinking, formed in the particular dream logic of youth. We glimpse photographs of our mother in bridal costume and our father in groom attire, only to refract these images onto ourselves.
Alma, Jean and Sebastiano comprise the trio of untethered siblings sent to Rome to stay with their father (Riccardo Scamarcio), a struggling screenwriter, and his creative “collaborator” – see, new girlfriend – played by Alba Rohrwacher. Their strictly religious mother (Céline Sallette) remains in Paris; she expects another child so pies them off to their old man for a few weeks. Her reasoning is uncertain, and the children must fill in the gaps of their parents’ divorce through low-key detective work and lightly sketched nods to incipient trauma. They are wary and wistful while the father is unreliable, the mother opaque.
Unclear family dynamics and characters of complex motivation suggest some intrigue but these are bogged down by textual obsessions, the creaking cogs of plot and dialogue, the heavy thuds of convolution and contrivance. The diabetic middle-child’s medication, the missing beloved pet, the loudmouth American (played to type by Fleabag’s Brett Gellman): all gesture towards the words on the page. The self-conscious moment in which the father wrestles with the distinction between ambiguity and banality is either an inspired nod or a galling provocation. Never has metatextual awareness felt so discombobulating.
Compositions are flat and unattractive. We rarely linger on faces. That events are set in the 1980s suggests this is the byproduct of childhood memory, which is rarely able to clarify detail, to hone in on precise contours or movements. The eldest boy, in awkward early teens, is admonished for always looking downwards. This explicates rather than justifies the dour stream of imagery, broken only by the young girl’s psychic reinventions of her parents’ marriage scene.
Scamarcio and Rohrwacher need more to work with. They are physically striking actors and the camera avoids them. This feels like a missed opportunity. “If only” has a different cadence to “what if”. It is focused and judgmental, a product of singular moral vision. It is less interested in directionless hypotheses, in the playfulness of fiction. Here, the rearticulated desire for the conventional family is reflected in Elkann’s lip service to the imaginative form.
If Only (Magari) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Locarno Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Locarno Film Festival website here.