Venice Film Festival: Piuma

Directed by Roan Johnson
Starring Luigi Fedele, Blu Yoshimi, Michela Cescon, Sergio Pierattini, Francesco Colella, Francesca Antonelli, Bruno Sgueglia and Francesca Turrini

by Jenny Donoghue

At first encounter, Piuma has what appears to be both the aesthetic and plot of an Italian version of 2007’s Juno. As a fan of the original, I wasn’t necessarily against this, and found the differences in translation fascinating – Michael Cera’s awkwardness becomes a frantically gesticulating Luigi Fedele as Ferro, the charming trouble magnet, and Ellen Page’s deadpan translates to a still grounded yet warmer more tender performance by Blu Yoshimi as Cate.

Director Roan Johnson’s Piuma quickly takes on a life of its own and diverges from any story we’ve already seen, dealing with the sacrifices bright popular young people make when they commit to an accidental pregnancy, but also throwing up a lot of hilarious unexpected antics. It has a lot of heart, sweet and charming with lines like Ferro’s “we’ve ended up together in this shitty world, if we split up now it would be a disaster”, and his grand romantic gestures like building Cate a paddling pool in the living room when they’re forced to miss their planned holiday – naturally driving his long suffering father crazy in the process.

Set in the suburbs of Rome, with what I’ve reliably been informed by a Real Italian™ is a strong lower class dialect, it’s a delightfully huge family comedy, bouncing from one ridiculously hilarious situation to another as the months of Cate’s accidental pregnancy count down.

With a cast of spectacularly funny characters filling out the families on either side, there is no doubt this is an Italian film as passions, tempers and emotions run high throughout. Ferro is soon not the only one waving his arms around like an Italian stereotype, it’s a full family affair. The very endearing leads are supported by lots of big fun characters, all superbly acted by a stellar ensemble cast. Michela Cescon is warm and capable as Ferro’s loving mother who indulges her son while telling her husband not to be so ridiculous when he broaches divorce. Sergio Pierattini is particularly hilarious as Ferro’s long suffering, always ready to explode father who just wants to retire in the Tuscan countryside. Francesco Colella is perfectly pitiful as Cate’s hopeless gambling addict father who stages a suicide attempt with fabric softener. Brando Pacitto as Ferro’s ailing granddad is hilarious running from Francesca Turrini, his zanily free-spirited physiotherapist Stella who casually seduces everyone, but ends up with a touchingly real twist in her story. Every character is full and rich and everyone gets their moment to shine both comedically and with compelling human portrayals. Billed as a drama, while it has lovely touching moments and deals with some realism, it’s definitely a comedy, and is as expressive, impassioned and lively as you’d hope from an Italian family comedy.

The film is wonderfully paced – both in the crescendo of the comedic events and the banter of lines, and in its economy, coming in at a fairly short 98 minutes. I could have watched it for much longer.

The title, Piuma, means feather in Italian. The young lovers choose the name for their unborn daughter because they want her to rise above everything in difficult times, “fly high over this troubled world”. A beautiful metaphor, and the film indulges in some surreal playful sequences that add to its sweetness. In particular the plastic duck story which became a recurring motif was lovely, capturing the magic and dreaminess of youth.

I won’t spoil the ending because I really think you should see Piuma if you get the chance, but among the hilarious oversized humour, there is real heart and the film ends on a realistic yet optimistic and touching note.

Great light fun, very heartfelt and feel good, it’s an irreverent and bracing look at the ups and downs of life, mistakes, and deciding what matters. The whole cinema was in stitches constantly, with several laughter applause breaks. It’s everything a film should be, and if I were giving out Golden Lions, this would get mine.



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