Penelope Debelle

This stylish and taut thriller about a cop on the verge of retirement opens this year’s Italian Film Festival.

On the night of his retirement, Amore arrives home from a jog and stops to talk to someone in a car who then drives off. He comes up to the apartment, rings the door-bell and the surprise party thrown by his family and friends gets underway.

Amore seems adrift in all the jollity, even as his vibrant young wife Viviana (Linda Caridi) buzzes around, handing out food and making sure the daughter from his first marriages connects with him over Zoom. Then Amore takes a call comes from his boss: there has been an incident with his work partner Dino (Francesco Di Leva) and he needs to come.

This sleek and very stylish thriller, the third movie from director Andrea Di Stefano, takes us to a crime scene where Amore sees Dino lying dead behind police tape, apparently killed in a shootout during a diamond heist. From what police can make out, Dino was moonlighting as security for an illegal gems courier.

Now the moral and criminal intrigue begins. The action shifts back to a few days earlier when Amore, called to a scene through a mafia connection of his wife, revives a Chinese gangland boss, Bao Zhang (Mao Wen) who had a heart attack during an encounter with a sex worker. While giving cardiac massage he warns the sex worker not to steal the money. “These people will come after you” he says and she quietly leaves.

This serendipitous introduction to the Chinese mafia who are dressed to the nines in Milanese pizazz triggers a string of events that turn this small film into an absolute thriller. Without giving too much away, Amore’s reputation as a peace-maker feeds into an elaborate plot that led to his best friend dying in a highway tunnel.

As the night wears on the stakes rise. Amore has until morning to find out what went wrong, sort it out, cover up for his friend and hang onto his pension.

Pierfrancesco, who starred in Nostalgia in the 2022 Italian Film Festival is well cast as a sympathetic figure who could be forgiven the lapse of marrying a woman from a gangster family who is the same age as his daughter. This is Italy, after all. We learn that his wife’s connections to ‘Ndrangheta stymied Amore’s career but she is loyal and vivacious, and disarmingly presents a tray of home-made lasagne to Bao Zhang, who reciprocates with an ornamental carp.

The narrative technique of looping back and bringing new meaning to events we accepted on face value is deftly handled and gives a knowing nod towards the multi-layered connections within Milanese society. It makes the moral accommodations reached in the final scenes all the more conflicting. You might want to cheer but you know it wouldn’t be right.

The St Ali. Italian Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend and Prospect runs from September 20 until October 15.

Originally published in InReview