Foreign films good. Hollywood bad. It's a cliché you may cling to until you see something as contrived and messy as La Nostra Vita (Our Life).
The movie, about a construction worker named Claudio (Ello Germano) whose wife dies giving birth to their third son, has about a dozen directions it could go (the sentimental single-dad route being the most obvious). Instead, it doesn't commit to any of them, veering from maudlin to near-sociopathic to toe-deep sociopolitical commentary, without pausing to ever make sense.
Cleaving to Hollywood convention in its first act, we find Claudio and the pregnant Elena (Isabella Ragonese), madly in love and still coupling like bunnies. Such deep love does not go unpunished in the Hollywood handbook, and it's laid on so thick you can pretty much write the first act yourself.
In his grief, Claudio makes the decision that his sons will never want anything (except maybe, as it turns out, love and attention). He needs money. And when he discovers the body of a watchman, an illegal worker, at the bottom of a shaft, he more or less blackmails his boss to put him in charge of a potentially lucrative building project in return for silence.
Claudio takes risks in every direction, hiring illegals, going to his drug-dealer buddy (Luca Zingaretti) to score project start-up money from Gypsy gangsters, cutting corners on quality, etc.
As if we're not given enough reason to stop feeling sorry for Claudio, director-writer Daniele Luchetti has him enter into an affair with the wife (Aline Madalina Berzunteanu) of the Romanian whose death he covered up.
Amplifying the creepiness, he becomes a surrogate father to the guy's son Andrei (Marius Ignat). Despite the inappropriateness of all this, there is hardly a moment of guilt. Even when he comes clean about it, Claudio seems to believe money will fix everything.
But then there are emotional left turns so abrupt as to leave your neck sore. Otherwise unemotional through the entire movie, Claudio has a breakdown funeral moment in which he sings his dead wife's favourite song loudly, angrily and through tears.
In the end, loose ends are tied up implausibly, and Claudio learns an important lesson (you know he does, because he has the second of his two emotional scenes in the movie).
As for the importance of the movie itself, there's little to speak of, even though Our Life was selected to debut at Cannes. The subplot of illegal labour being seamlessly woven into the Italian economy keeps popping up with the subtlety of a hammer. But this isn't exactly stop-the-presses stuff.
Finally, Our Life is a lot of sound and gesticulation, signifying nothing.