Open Roads is an all-too-brief survey of new Italian cinema presented annually by New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center. Now in it sixth year, the series offers a wide selection of films, most of which will never see distribution in the US; this year's festival runs from May 31 until June 9, and further details (including ticket information) can be found on the Open Roads website.
Anchored by a terrific supporting performance by Michele Placido, Michele Soavi's dark, twisted The Goodbye Kiss is a hell of a lot of fun to watch, and easily the most enjoyable film I've seen at Open Roads. Sold as a political thriller, the film in fact dabbles in multiple genres, mixing thriller with heist and horror, all presented with a knowing nastiness that, by the movie's end, has you smiling when you should be recoiling in disgust.
The movie stars Alessio Boni (The Best of Youth) as Giorgio, a one-time hardline leftist who flees Italy when a bomb he helps plant accidentally kills a bystander. After some time with communist guerillas in an unnamed Central American country, he executes his best friend in exchange for a French passport, and returns home, bored and unsettled enough to risk arrest. And, upon arrival in Italy, he is immediately set upon by Michele Placido's Anedda, a cop who has pictorial evidence of Giorgio planting that deadly bomb; rather than do serious prison time, he agrees to give Anedda the names of everyone in the organization of which he was once a member. Thus, after two years in prison, he's free and can begin working on official forgiveness, or "rehabilitation."
Though he starts his new life seemingly on the straight and narrow -- he is bunking in what appears to be a church-run establishment, and works a menial, honest job -- Giorgio quickly returns to crime, only now it's idealism-free. From early work as a club manager-cum drug dealer to his violent organization of an armored car robbery, it's abundantly clear that Giorgio is entirely amoral, albeit in a lazy, untroubled sort of way. It's an interesting characterization: In place of the cold, calculating evil we tend to expect from cinema's irredeemable criminals, Boni gives his character a sort of laconic ease. He's singularly untroubled by his actions (among other things, he kills and lies a lot, and forces the wife of a club patron to prostitute herself to him), though there's something about them that he finds physically draining. There are times when Giorgio seems acutely aware that he's only passing the days until his own inevitable violent death, but it's a realization without emotional impact -- a simple fact, nothing more. While he's not a great actor, Boni is coldly handsome, and his natural blankness is so appropriate to the character that his tendency to express emotions via facial tics is less damaging than one might imagine.
Miles from Boni's purely functional performance, meanwhile, Placido (director of the widely-acclaimed Crime Novel) takes full advantage of the aggressive, abrasive Anedda to pick the movie up and gleefully shake it by the scruff of its neck. What makes Placido's performance particularly gratifying is that it's loud and dominating but also entirely appropriate to his character. In any other role, he'd be wildly over the top, but here he embodies Anedda so completely that the movie only seems to really click when he's on screen. And none of this is lost on Placido, who is clearly having the time of his life.
Ultimately, there's not much plot arc to The Goodbye Kiss. Instead, the movie simply wanders through Giorgio's bloody, patchwork, criminal life. The crimes and jobs vary but his character remains resolutely the same: He's never truly tempted by redemption or regretful about his choices, no matter how much damage they may do. Instead, he simply deals with the consequences of his actions, often in ways that lead to more violence and deception. By the end of the movie, Giorgio's damage control has grown so extreme that the film crosses the line from thriller into operatic horror. The penultimate scene is gloriously drawn-out and overly dramatic; shot from extreme angles, it's dialogue-free, and backed only by a romantic song playing at deafening volume on an in-scene stereo. The result of this sudden excess is impossibly wonderful, a great big wink to audiences who have been horrified by their hero's transgressions to this point. "Lighten up," Soavi seems to be saying. "It's only a movie."