Director: Nanni Moretti
Writers: Francesca Marciano, Nanni Moretti, and Federica Pontremoli
Stars: Nanni Moretti, Margherita Buy, Silvio Orlando
Synopsis: A movie director struggles with his relationship with his family, and with his latest movie, about the impact on the Italian Communist Party of the USSR invasion of Hungary in 1956.
Nanni Moretti’s latest, A Brighter Tomorrow, has the Italian filmmaker dwelling on the metatextual to provide a character study of a director facing an existential crisis. But the film-within-a-film narrative, with Moretti playing an annoying version of himself, grows more dull and pretentious by the minute.
The FCEPR (Festival de Cine Europeo de Puerto Rico) always lends some of its main slate spots to auteurs who are held dearly in their country of origin. They present their latest picture in what I consider one of the best cinemas here on the island. Last year, it was Arnaud Desplechin with Brother and Sister; in the newest edition of the festival, that spot belongs to Nanni Moretti’s A Brighter Tomorrow (Il sol dell’avvenire). Coincidentally, the two pictures being presented and the cinematic trajectories of both directors can be compared with one another. Desplechin and Moretti are some of the most celebrated contemporary auteurs in their respective countries, the former in France and the latter in Italy. Both filmmakers have a distinct artistic sensibility that the viewer can easily perceive. But, as the years go by, we see them going to territories that depart from their usual narratives, for better or worse.
For Desplechin, it has helped him reach new heights with interesting works like Ismael’s Ghosts and Deception, right until 2022, when he delivered a melodrama that felt like an unintentional parody of modern French cinema. In the case of the Italian filmmaker, he has failed to adapt his cinematic language to a modern lens. His latest films feel stuck between two periods, where the charming tone that Moretti wants to present translates to the audience as detestable due to its occasional satirical nature intertwined with the attempt at conjuring humanistic emotions. A Brighter Tomorrow is no exception to his latest string of poorly conceived pictures. After delivering one of the worst films of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival with Three Floors, Morretti arrives with a picture that’s even more mawkish and tonally misguided. It contains a film within a film narrative that adds some metatextual layers to the story, but both are equally dull and frustrating.
There are some comparisons to be made between A Brighter Tomorrow and Mia Madre, one of Moretti’s most-liked recently-released movies. Both stories center around directors making a film while suffering from an existential crisis. Additionally, Moretti plays a man named Giovanni in the two pictures. What changes here is that Moretti switches the status of his role from supporting to leading. In essence, they are somewhat the same picture, tied by the same narrative of a creative person struggling to find artistic common ground as the world seems to crumble right in front of the lead. It’s sometimes a good idea for filmmakers to revisit themes and topics, as they tend to shine a light on a different perspective or seek another angle on stories that have already been told. But the main difference between Mia Madre and A Brighter Tomorrow is that one has a solid dramatic core, while the other feels emotionally detached from reality to the point where the audience can’t stand it.
As mentioned, Moretti’s latest follows Giovanni, a film director who is having a hard time not only with his latest film but also with his partner, Paola (Margherita Buy). In other words, he’s having an existential crisis. She has also been his producer for over thirty years, helping him bring more than a dozen projects to life. So, it hurts Giovanni that Paola is not happy with him after all this time. She doesn’t even want to work with Giovanni on whatever project he’s concocting; hence, her decision to move onto a picture meant for international distribution. The type of movie Paola is making baffles Giovanni ultimately. He believes that film has nothing to say about life and its complexities. It is funny that the lead character says so because that same statement can be said of A Brighter Tomorrow.
The film Giovanni plans to make, if the funds come in, centers around a Hungarian circus group stranded in Rome during the 1956 Budapest rebellion. The group goes on strike in solidarity during an invasion, standing with the Hungarians as they go against their comrades’ actions. Giovanni wants to rewrite history in some way, creating a fantasy-like retelling of similar events that occurred during the time. The editor of the Communist Party’s paper, Ennio (Silvio Orlando), is perceiving similar emotions to Giovanni, as he also is having an existential bout with himself and his beliefs. Giovanni’s feelings are put into contrast with that of the characters he’s writing for his following picture. Moretti believes that the intertwining between Giovanni and Ennio will pave the way for fruitful thematic layers to his latest work. But the opposite happens; the more he tries to create empathy and realistic emotional sensibilities, the less everything in the film rings true.
Not a single narrative plot point feels close to something that can be perceived as human. Giovanni embodies Moretti – quirks, grumpiness, pompousness and all. And it hurts the film because Giovanni is treated like the best of his kind, a filmmaker who doesn’t miss a single beat, even if there are plenty of moments focused on his antics. That isn’t the only problem arising from that character development. Moretti doesn’t even present why we must view Giovanni in that manner. The reason is apparent: Moretti himself is incapable of doing something of that same stature his character is apparently in. The only way Giovanni (and, in an equal sense, Moretti) expresses his feelings toward cinema is by criticizing the younger generation of creators, whether it is seen in fights with his producers or debacles against screenwriters.
The only thing he seems to draw from reality is that same thing. When Julia Ducournau’s Titane won the Palme d’Or in 2021, Nani Moretti posted a picture on his Instagram where he quoted that the win for the French filmmaker caused him stress and anxiety. Although he was probably mad that his film didn’t win that year, you notice the pattern in characters between Giovanni and Moretti himself – the pretentiousness of his satirical efforts makes A Brighter Tomorrow feel toothless and insipid. There’s no irony in the narrative, only contradictions in the backstory of his social media antics and what he writes for the screen.