There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
The disintegration of a marriage is the subject of Days and Clouds, an Italian film by director Silvio Soldini (2000’s Bread and Tulips) that involves significantly fewer people than Rachel Getting Married but is full of just as much bile. Elsa (Margherita Buy) and Michele (Antonio Albanese) are living a comfortable and mostly content life, their biggest family feuds involving their grown daughter’s choice of career and boyfriend. With Michele making a good salary, Elsa has been able to go back to graduate school to study art restoration. She’s just earned her degree, so Michele throws an elaborate surprise party for her. The following morning, when Elsa’s nursing a hangover, Michele breaks the news that he hasn’t worked in two months.
Naturally, Elsa freaks, and her respect for her husband starts to erode. She’s not grateful that he kept the news from her so she could focus on her studies. She wishes he hadn’t spent so much money on the party. And she really can’t fathom why he insists on paying for everyone’s dinner when they go out with friends, especially when he’s told her they’re going to have to sell their home to get by. As Elsa switches into survival mode, taking first a telemarketing job and later moonlighting as a secretary and giving up her restoration project, Michele continues to let his pride exacerbate the situation. This interview isn’t worth going to; it’s beneath him to take classes. And he must keep spending money to save face.
The couple’s increasing distance develops so realistically, watching them feels voyeuristic. (Not to mention stomach-turning.) Their bickering and accusations are impressively natural considering that three writers plus Soldini are credited with the script; more cooks usually means more starch. The performances are also raw and unselfconscious: Elsa’s mounting fury is more explosive because Buy shows her struggling with restraint, while Albanese adroitly expresses Michele’s sense of emasculation, seemingly becoming smaller and weaker the more he lies around their cramped new apartment and falls deeper into a morass of self-pity.
As bad as their relationship gets, however, Days and Clouds suggests that the marriage might survive. The film smartly doesn’t go so far as to wrap things up with a bow; the anger lingers even as the credits roll. But Elsa and Michele’s story is such a deft study of what can make a relationship go to pieces that it’s a satisfying watch in spite of all the bitterness.