Title: The Place
Director: Paolo Genovese
Music: Maurizio Filardo
Cinematography: Fabrizio Lucci
“Make a wish and fulfill its corresponding task”, this is the terms in THE PLACE, Italian reductionist Paolo Genovese’s follow-up of his runaway success PERFECT STRANGERS (2016), which as yet has spawned at least 5 different remakes (Spanish, Korean, Turkish, French, Greek and counting), the title refers to a workaday restaurant which incredibly opens 24/7, and (spoil alert!) it is where the entire film takes place.
Under the spotlight is a nameless man (Mastandrea), perpetually sitting at the same table with a scribbled notebook, he meets ten clients in toto and each asks a particular wish and after consulting his notebook, he proposes a task for them to perform in order to get their wishes fulfilled. The wishes range from the miraculous (recuperation of those malady-ridden beloved ones, a blind man coveting eyesight), the spiritual (a nun wishes for a renewal of feeling God’s presence), the superficial (a girl wants to be prettier, a middle-aged man fantasizing a one-night-stand with the one his heart desires) and the pragmatic (ironing out marital discord, recouping the haul of a robbery or sundering a toxic father-son relation), in return they are tasked with sundry missions that are running from unethical to homicidal, yet each is relatively commensurate with what its wish demands, for example, if one wants his young son’s cancer to disappear, the price is to take away another innocent life, or for a one-night-stand, the price is to protect a young girl for two weeks, et. al.
Soon, the various assignments start to be entangled within those 10 persons and each one debriefs their latest updates, which are jotted down diligently on the notebook, with audience and the man playing omniscient to their proceedings, it shows sheer competence that Genovese can engage us with beggar-belief contrivances within a single location, dangling with one single theological assumption, is the man the incarnation of God or Satan? And eventually he cunningly evades an easy answer in favor of a more ambiguous angle that turns the table when the convivial waitress Angela (Ferilli) reveals an ace up her sleeve, surprise, surprise, no lesser mortals can outguess a divine plan.
Solely banking on incessant episodes of tête-à-têtes, the cast is buckling down with vim and vigor, highlights including Alessandro Borghi, portraying a blind man with memorable conviction, and Giulia Lazzarini, the senile bomb expert, gives the man an out-of-blue scare that totally takes him down from his superior pedestal, and a luxuriantly-bearded Valerio Mastandrea, oozes a particularly disarming whiff of steely authority and unforthcoming mystique, which also intensely betrays his character’s own hapless entrapment.
Although there is nothing fancy to segue between shot-reverse-shot dialogues that constitute this undertaking, and albeit its simple-forward broad stroke, what makes THE PLACE clicks is Genovese’s ingenious idea of recapitulating the whole gamut of human nature into a minimal-scaled context seizing on the juxtaposition of the unfathomable divinity and the unpredictability apropos of depravity which a human being is not above to conduct when the payoff is temptingly high, but as the film correctly states, please do it on your own volition and at your own peril, what if God is more like an onlooker than an omnipresent interferer? Our personal Jesus is within us intrinsically, this is the gist.