Typically, films that deal in familial emotions - particularly reunions after long absences - can be tripped up by relying too heavily upon sentimentality. Plucking an audience's heartstrings is a tricky proposition and too often, filmmakers forsake restraint and an audience's intelligence for dunking them face-first into a vat of treacle, suffocating them with the overwrought humanity and feeling. It's that rare piece of cinema that can tell an affecting story without resorting to these (often desperate) measures - director/co-writer Gianni Amelio's film, The Keys To The House is one such work that manages to uplift and induce tears without shameless sentiment.
Amelio, who co-wrote the screenplay with Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli, taking inspiration from Giuseppe Pontiggia's novel "Born Twice," introduces us to a young repairman, Gianni (Kim Rossi Stuart), en route to a Berlin hospital for therapy from Milan, who's truly taking charge of his developmentally and physically disabled 15-year-old son Paolo (Andrea Rossi) for the first time. Paolo's aunt and uncle, who have cared for him heretofore, have turned the reins over to Gianni, hoping that being with his father will have a restorative effect upon Paolo.
From here, the film evolves into an domestic drama fused with shades of a buddy road trip flick, as Gianni and Paolo eventually find their way to Berlin and the harsh realities of therapy (with a puzzling detour into Norway). Along the way, the pair momentarily meet up with Nicole (Charlotte Rampling, in a too-brief appearance), the mother of a disabled child. Mostly, however, the film functions as a closely held two-character study about the straining effects of love and loss upon a family as well as the hopeful possibility of redemption.
Pulling few punches but saddled with an erratic narrative, Amelio nevertheless yields some surprisingly harsh truths about lives lived with the disabled; Rossi himself is disabled in real life and the authenticity he brings to The Keys To The House lends considerable depth to some of the more intensely emotional scenes. By dispensing with the need to pander, Amelio is free to craft a real, occasionally raw look at what the power of love is capable of as well as how no one can truly shut themselves off from the world.
Italy's official selection for the 2004 Oscar for Best Foriegn Language Film is presented here in a clean 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks slightly dark in places; there are also scenes that indicate that this film perhaps underwent a PAL-to-NTSC transfer, which accounts for the vaguely digital (rather than filmic) appearance in certain portions. Nevertheless, a very good-looking transfer, considering the film's relative youth.
Offered only in its native Italian in Dolby 2.0 stereo with forced English subtitles, The Keys To The House is a film largely driven by dialogue, which never distorts or drops out. The score never overwhelms the characters and is nicely balanced overall.
No extras are included.
A film that doesn't shy away from occasionally brutal truth, Gianni Amelio's The Keys To The House is an intermittently uplifting drama that boasts an incredible performance from Andrea Rossi. Easily recommended for rental.