Sergio Castellitto’s “Don’t Move” has all the elements of both a Greek tragedy and a Lifetime movie: adultery, out-of-wedlock children, incest, dead lovers, men running down streets cradling limp women and, of course, plenty of screaming in the rain. And yet, somehow Castellitto manages to imbue a muddled and meandering plot with admirable style and startling insight. The result is a fascinating psychological film that gives us a portrait of love and madness that is anything but conventional — albeit one that could have been about half an hour shorter.
The story is not a new one. The Italian film begins with a young doctor (Castellitto), rich and married to a beautiful woman. One day his car breaks down in the countryside, and while looking for a mechanic he meets a hotel worker (Penelope Cruz) with a penchant for short skirts. The brief encounter stays with him long after his Volvo is towed home, and he finds that he can’t keep away from her ramshackle house. Abundant melodrama ensues: The nature of the relationship between the doctor, Timoteo, and the hotel worker, Italia, gradually changes from physical lust to real love — leaving Timoteo tragically torn between the security of an established life and the passion for a young stranger. The plot thickens when both women become pregnant, exponentially increasing Timoteo’s torment as he struggles against the very pretty chains that bind him.
What elevates the film from its plot’s banality is the nature of Italia and Timoteo’s relationship. It begins, inauspiciously to say the least, when Timoteo stumbles into Italia’s home after an afternoon of drinking vodka as mechanics repair his car. In a frighteningly understated scene, he drunkenly forces himself on her. Timoteo returns a few days later, sober, to apologize: Inexplicably, to say the least, she lets him into her bed. He keeps coming back, and though at first he handles her like a limp doll — going so far as to pay for her trouble — before long he falls completely in love with her. The confused interactions between the lovers, their upsetting history and the complexity of their emotions, give new meaning to the tale of a man and his mistress. It is love as both exploitation and sacrifice, salvation and destruction.
The strength of both Castellitto and Cruz’s performances gives the film’s somewhat bizarre sequence of events credibility. Castellitto, who has an incredible ability to convey a character’s inner life without dialogue, manages the Herculean feat of making Timoteo — a rapist and adulterer who occasionally kicks small puppies — into a complex, sympathetic character.
And Cruz is truly astounding. From the moment she strides uncertainly onto the screen, bruise-eyed and gritty, teetering on her high heels, it’s nearly impossible to keep your eyes off her. Following in the bold footsteps of Charlize Theron, she is obviously not afraid to look less than attractive. And she backs up her cosmetic transformation with a performance that is arguably her best to date: Alternately terrified and jaded, she creates a convincing portrait of a woman living on the edge. Her teeth are bad, her dye-job is terrible and her vulnerability is palpable.
Castellitto’s directing is as good as his acting. He has a visible appreciation for each color and sound in the world he creates, evident in the thoughtful beauty each of his shots possesses. He wrings sensuality from the most banal of scenes, often through techniques as simple as focusing on the peach tones of skin.
Without a doubt, the most impressive element of “Don’t Move” is Castellitto’s ability to tell an entire story though the placement of a single object. After his first meeting with Italia, we learn that he is married from a woman’s swimsuit hanging enigmatically on a clothes-line at his home. And the story of his daughter’s motorbike accident is devastatingly summarized in one shot of a helmet, filling up with rain as it lies on the pavement — a nod to the famous opening of “Lawrence of Arabia.”
With “Don’t Move,” Castellitto has certainly proven that he has true talent for visual storytelling, and the ability to handle complex characters and ambiguous emotions. These assets prove enough to keep us interested when the near-deaths, hysterical confrontations and tearful last good-byes become draggingly tedious.