A Five Star Life
by George Sax
The crisply assembled montage that opens Maria Sole Tognazzi’s A Five Star Life—shots of a woman in a hotel room checking for dust and the way the bed is made—could be taken as a harbinger of what’s to come. And early on, it is. For awhile the movie seems to be delivering a smartly written and directed light comedy. Later, things become less expectable. Conflict, inner and interpersonal, is introduced, along with an increasingly poignant note.
The woman in the hotel room is Irene (Margherita Buy), a handsome, fortyish “mystery guest,” an inspector-critic for an international luxury-hospitality-industry rating agency in Italy. Over the film’s course, Irene visits a number of European and North African hostelries, evaluating these temples of richly appointed indulgence and opulent hedonism. Irene takes the part of these rarified establishments’ patrons very seriously. (A mildly populist tack is taken when she upbraids a manager for tolerating the staff’s condescendingly rude treatment of a naïve young couple unaccustomed to such expensive privilege.)
When Irene’s boss, bemoaning the resignations of inspectors pleading personal obligations and goals, says it’s a job for single people, Irene replies, “So I’m an ideal inspector because I have no life?” This becomes an increasingly important question for her and the movie. She does have her former lover and best friend Andrea (Stefano Accorsi), but he’s become ambivalently entangled with a woman expecting their child. And there’s her sister Sylvia and two small nieces, but sibling tensions are inhibiting their interactions. A fateful encounter with a blunt-talking English anthropologist (Leslie Manville) brings to a head Irene’s anxious self-examination.
Tognazzi is probably after something emotionally incisive, but it’s not quite clear what that is. Irene’s fear of being left alone is affectingly rendered by the star, but it’s hard to understand what Irene’s supposed plight means. Unlike George Clooney’s protagonist in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, which this movie lightly resembles, Irene isn’t a smoothly operating escape artist. Is Tognazzi focusing on the potentially alienating female career? She never really communicates just what she’s after.
Watch the trailer for A Five Star Life
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