By blurring the audience’s focus right from the opening shot, director Giuseppe Piccioni starts as he means to go on. As we adjust our vision, we realise we are in a swimming pool. The dazzling effect is like rubbing water from your eyes and seeing the world anew – a baptism in chlorine, purifying to some, poisonous to others.
A gentle montage of swimmers gradually takes our attention to Giulia, an instructor at the pool. She’s cuts a svelte, haunting figure, terribly alone and nearly dead behind the eyes. She sits eating her lunch, staring into the void of her life as if harbouring a distant secret. The buzzing crowds circle her, unable to penetrate her brooding force field. We wonder if we will have any more success.
Watching Giulia teach his daughter to swim is Guido Montani, an author on the brink of greatness. He has a stunning wife, Benedetta, a gleaming house just outside of Rome and another in the capital. Still, despite these riches, we get the impression that Guido seems to have stumbled onto his success rather than earned it. He is constantly surrounded by books, but confesses to hardly ever reading them and being short-listed for a literary prize totally underwhelms him.
Guido is a man without direction. He sleepwalks through his life, gently amused and increasingly detached from his family. Even Filippo, his daughter’s boyfriend, has more drive and purpose than him. Guido observes him with a mixture of wonder and disbelief as Filippo translates French love songs or explains the nutritional value of every conceivable choice from a vending machine.
Everyone who reads Guido’s novel can’t finish it, just as he can’t complete his latest work. Half-heartedly, he scrambles some ideas onto his Mac. Piccioni conjures these literary minorpieces into vivid cinematic life with every keystroke. Perhaps Guido is writing with one eye on the film rights rather than being content with penning a conventional novel – the schizophrenic problem facing most modern literature today. Forever indecisive, he can’t even bring himself to delete these weak ideas even though he knows they have no worth.
To Guido, the ice maiden Giulia can offer him a chance to accomplish something more tangible. He asks her to teach him how to swim 50 lengths. Up until this point, Guido was happy to know how “to float,” which is the story of his life. As his freestyle improves so their relationship blossoms and her secrets revealed, all at the expense of his marriage. The spark reignites in Giulia’s eyes just as it starts to die in Benedetta’s – “I don’t inspire you at all,” she acquiesces.
Taken at face value, “Giulia Doesn’t Date At Night” seems a minor work. However Piccioni’s surrealist sensibilities, the subtle performances, especially Valerio Mastandrea’s bemused Guido and the effortless script, raise the film to a delicate character study that defies being pigeonholed into a specific genre. Minor? Maybe. Mesmerising? Definitely.