Illicit sex—and Penelope Cruz—has never looked so unglamorous as in "Don't Move," an Italian film by Sergio Castellitto. Based on the novel by Margaret Mazzantini, it makes you wonder how a woman could have written such a tawdry male fantasy. If you watch one of the short bonus features, "Margaret Mazzantini: A Writer's Reflections," you get the answer. Apparently, she didn't. There were differences of opinion as to how the film should be structured, and she said that Castellitto, who co-wrote the screenplay and also handled the male lead, imposed his way.
That's kind of how the movie goes. Like a set of Russian nesting dolls it's mostly flashbacks that lead to other flashbacks. In the main flashback you have a doctor with a beautiful wife who becomes stranded in an impoverished part of town and goes to a bar/café to find help. Instead, he finds Italia (Cruz), a lower-class ethnic woman with bad teeth whom you can tell he suspects of being a prostitute. She invites him to her house to make a phone call, and when he can't get through, he returns to the bar/café. All it takes for him to transform from a good doctor to a monster-like Hyde is a double-shot of chilled vodka. Then it's back to the woman's apartment for an apparently premeditated and violent rape. Though we're to believe he's remorseful, since he's seeing "I raped a woman" drawn in the sand when he and his wife go for a swim in the ocean, that doesn't stop him from returning and taking the woman in a stranglehold from behind or pounding her roughly against a door, each time leaving money behind to put an exclamation point to his actions. It's not what I'd call an affair, but the doctor is convinced that it is. He's also convinced he's in love with the woman, and his best friend, a gynecologist (Marco Giallini), has a similarly elevated view of sexual relationships. "I like surprises, like blow-jobs in elevators," he says.
As it happens with so many films, the great strength of "Don't Move" is also its greatest weakness. The artifice that at first makes the film seem artsy and interesting becomes so oppressively heavy-handed that it dominates almost as much as the doctor does by the film's end.
That's too bad, because it begins promising enough. The establishing shot is a clever overhead one which shows cars and buses stopped below in a haphazard circle. It's raining, and seen from above the torrent has a mesmerizing beauty. Gradually we get closer and see that it's a 15-year-old girl who's had a motorbike accident. We don't see any skin during the actual sex scenes in this film, but lo and behold here are a couple of teenaged breasts exposed at just the point where we're supposed to be concerned for the girl's welfare . . . and her HEAD injury. The only other nudity comes during a scene when the doctor, Timoteo, mixes business with pleasure and gives Italia the kind of exam that men hope other doctors aren't practicing on their wives. But the real graphic stuff here is bloody—needles inserted, blood drawn, bloodied mouths dampened, incisions slowly drawn, ear lobes shown in gross magnification—so if you're squeamish, you'd better pass on this one.
While Angela, his daughter, lies on an operating table having brain surgery, Timoteo launches into the flashback 15 years ago when he had an affair with Italia before his wife, Elsa (Claudia Gerini) gave birth. The parallels between the dying daughter and the undying love are just a bit too precious for them to appear anything other than the contrivances that they are, and that unfortunately takes viewers out of the emotional moment. We don't really have a sense of why Dad is reminiscing about an illicit affair instead of worrying more about his daughter or having flashbacks about HER life with him until the 30-minute mark, and even then it's questionable. Throughout the course of the film, associative cuts bonk us over the head at how connected the flashback is to the current crisis. But in the real world, our flashbacks have triggers that aren't so artificial.
Out of fairness, Castellitto, Cruz, and Gerini turn in solid performances, with Cruz as raw and animal-like as we've seen her. I have to say, though, that I find it amusing that all of the passionate sex scenes happen without any pants being unzipped. And there seems to be more passion, more connection between Castellitto and Gerini than him and Cruz. That "relationship" is all about him, while she goes along with it, saying nothing, as she did when she first was molested, we learn in flashback.
As for the flashbacks within flashbacks, aside from the Italia revelation, they don't really tell us enough to make us understand any of the main characters better or draw closer to them. If anything, we pull farther away from Timoteo the more we know about him. He's an extremely unlikable man who inexplicably was a likable and sensitive boy who was traumatized by neighborhood ruffians beating a frog to death with a broom. But what does that tell us about the controlling and sadistic doctor who forces himself on a woman? Predictably, the film ends tragically, but it also ends with more heavy-handedness. I won't spoil it by telling you what, but I will ask, Where did the shoe come from? But even that's not as heavy-handed and artificial than the repetition of the title phrase.
Video: "Don't Move" is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, "enhanced" for widescreen televisions, which is to say that the letterboxing is only slightly reduced. The picture quality is actually pretty good. Despite slight graininess, the colors are bold and vivid, and there's precise delineation even with difficult shots like the aerial raindrops.
Audio: The audio is Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with English subtitles, and while it's nothing special it's not a liability either. The soundtrack is all-English songs with the exception of the final song, and none of the music seems distorted, muffled, or tinny, so there's decent treble/bass balance.
Extras: There's a boring behind-the-scenes feature that was slow-moving and tough to watch, along with an unrated deleted sex scene that, like the other sex scenes, doesn't show any skin. The most interesting extras are actually three Cruz screen tests and the short feature with Mazzantini talking.
Bottom Line: "Don't Move" isn't a bad film, but it's an overwrought one which unfortunately overshadows any interesting parallels and performances.