A Film a Week - Sanremo

 previously published on Cineuropa

Dementia is usually treated in one of two ways in cinema: either we get a “serious” (melo)drama that goes for “pity for the poor old human beings”, or we get a comedy that tries to convert the mishaps and forgetfulness into insensitive jokes and cheap laughs. Both of those approaches are exploitative. Bosnian-born, Slovenian-based filmmaker Miroslav Mandić manages something quite rare with his newest film, Sanremo, which has just premiered in the competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. He gives the subject of dementia a gentle, humane cinematic treatment.

We meet out protagonist, Bruno (thespian Sandi Pavlin), engrossed in a very peculiar situation. He is trying to borrow a bicycle from a younger woman so he can get home and feed his dog. On the way, he gets lost, while the woman follows him closely, and the two end up on a river bank. The nurses and security guards from the local nursing home arrive later on, taking him back to the place where he actually lives. He has escaped – it is certainly not the first time he has done so, and probably not the last, either.

Back in the home, Bruno meets fellow “inmate” Duša (veteran actress Silva Čušin) or, more likely, he keeps meeting her over and over again. They develop certain sentiments for each other, regardless of the fact that they might not remember the feelings they had developed for each other previously. The only thing that connects them is also the only memory they have in common: Gigliola Cinquetti's song “Non ho l’età”, with which she won at the Sanremo Music Festival in the times of their youth. Could these two lost souls find love in a hopeless place?

Mandić is not really interested in social criticism. The nursing home seems like a pleasant, even idyllic, place, with a nice garden and some woods beyond its back gate, located in a picturesque area with hills, mountains, vineyards and even a whiff of sea air. The staff treat the retirees with care, but also with some firmness in order to keep them safe. Instead, Mandić focuses on Bruno’s internalised suffering, portrayed through heart-breaking details, like the fact that he “learns” about his beloved wife’s and equally beloved dog’s death over and over again from his daughter.

The finely tuned acting by the leading couple and the rest of the cast fills the film with emotion, but Mandić also proves himself to be a master of visual storytelling. The cinematography by regular Werner Herzog collaborator Peter Zeitlinger exposes and showcases the full colour of the beautiful landscape season after season, but there is a certain sense of fogginess in many of the frames, clearly reflecting Bruno’s clouded state of mind. Once he feels focused on something, the “fog” clears, and the colours start shining through. The film also benefits from Andrej Nagode’s measured editing, which complements the deliberately moderate pace and the abstract score by Croatian-French musician Darko Rundek, which is in sync with Bruno’s quiet inner confusion. In summary, Sanremo is a complete, heart-felt viewing experience.

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