As Titta (Toni Servillo) watches impassively through the window of his hotel room, a suited man in the traffic island below, distracted by the sight of a passing woman, walks smack bang into a lamppost. With simple economy, this scene near the beginning of Paolo Sorrentino's The Consequences Of Love (Le Conseguenze dell'Amore) establishes several key features of the film, for it encapsulates Titta's status as an aloof observer, cocooned from the "street level" of everyday human affairs, as well as affording an early glimpse of the catastrophic disorder that desire can bring.
There is no room in Titta's life for disorder. Neat and fastidious, with a greyly lugubrious air, he has lived a quiet exile in the same Swiss hotel for eight long years, estranged from his wife and children in the south of Italy, rarely talking to anybody, or venturing out, resolutely ignoring the civilities of bartender Sofia (Olivia Magnani), occasionally playing cards with a once-wealthy couple (Raffaele Pisu, Angela Goodwin), who have fallen on hard times, and always paying his expenses with perfect punctuality. It is a life dominated by clockwork routine, in which nothing out of the ordinary ever happens and the future already seems set in concrete. Even if the hotel manager wonders what his permanent guest actually does for a living, Titta is a master at guarding his secrets to the grave. Until, that is, he plunges feet first into a romance with Sofia and nothing can ever be the same again.
From the start, Titta's evasive taciturnity makes him an enigmatic figure, so that viewers are immediately drawn into the other characters' curiosity about his person and circumstances. Sorrentino has crafted an assured mystery, first focusing on the minute details of Titta's strange entombment in the hotel, isolated, bored, and unable even to sleep, before slowly importing thriller elements, with some deft twists and, ultimately, life-or-death suspense. Yet what gives the film its dramatic power is that the criminal plot, which eventually emerges, is as understated as the central character, and so complements, rather than displaces, the very human story of Titta's living death, sentenced to stay in a place of transit and wait in silence.
Servillo, who also starred in Sorrentino's previous films, L'Uomo In Più (2001) and Il Divo (2008) offers a performance of perfectly controlled containment, setting the tone of cool, sterile surfaces, shrilling underneath with nervous tension. Shot mostly within the hermetic confines of the hotel, The Consequences Of Love gives Titta's claustrophobia and alienation a vividness that is only enhanced by cinematographer Luca Bigazzi's vertiginous camera angles and Pasquale Catalano's disorienting triphop soundtrack. For in the end, as in the beginning, Titta is a prisoner, fixed in place and unable to escape, his only small consolation being his faith, unwavering, if highly questionable, in his fellow man.
This is a tense, tragic portrait of a life suspended. Simply unmissable.