Credit: Venice International Film Festival
by Ayeen Forootan Film

The Ties | Daniele Luchetti

September 16, 2020

In recent years, Venezia has been a strong catalyst for auteurs to premiere some of the year’s most internationally acclaimed films. While Daniele Luchetti‘s The Ties (based on Domenico Starnone’s novel Lacci) certainly was not a highlight from this year’s festival, it’s at least distinguished as the first Italian entry to serve as the opening film since Giuseppe Tornatore’s Baarìa in 2009. Luchetti’s The Ties reflects on a Neapolitan family of four, oscillating back and forth in time across roughly 40 years, with no palpable distinction between the different eras. This lazy execution proves standard: The Ties is also ideologically vapid, failing to put forward new ideas or any refreshing aesthetic modes of expression. Italian “realist” dramas are a dime a dozen at film festivals, and Luchetti’s new film is yet another rehash, telling a familiar story of love and betrayal. The use value of The Ties is to pad the lineup of a film festival and adhere to a prescribed formula: a minimalist screenplay revolving around ordinary life, a moralistic platitude, and an aesthetic schema of unembellished photography. Cinematographer Ivan Casalgrandi’s over-use of extreme close-ups, color-corrected neutral lighting, low depth of field, and wobbling camera movements, with the occasional interspersing of a long-distance composition, lack a coherent visual logic. 

Thematically, The Ties attempts a study of dysfunctional family dynamics and unbalanced matrimonial strife to question the motive of these relationships over its decade-spanning structure, but Luchetti fails to provide any foundation for his characters’ interiority or their existential/psychological modes. Silvio Orlando (a frequent collaborator with Nanni Moretti) plays Aldo, an adulterous husband who is no longer capable of bearing the guilt of his philandering behavior. At the beginning of The Ties, he decides to come clean to his wife, Vanda, played by the reliable Alba Rohrwacher (Happy as Lazzaro). Despite the early confrontational moments, little is elucidated, and Luchetti’s careless direction prevents the audience from understanding what tethers the couple (and their children) — is it love, despair, fear of abandonment, some combination of these, none of these? The director would surely wish his audience to read profundity into this open-endedness, but it’s merely the product of underdevelopment. 

Because Luchetti is incapable of eliciting much meaningful, organic reflection and feeling from the viewer, he frequently imposes and infuses different musical pieces (predominantly J.S. Bach) to perhaps better evoke the emotionally euphonious and redemptive mood he so desires for his film. And indeed, after Vanda attempts suicide, both her and Aldo’s words work as accurate assessments for the film itself: in voice-over, she laments what she perceives as “superficial and devoid of sensitivity” while Aldo angstily shouts, “I’ve no energy!” Even the film’s metaphorical title — which refers not just to familial bondage but also to the shoelaces that the young son here ties like his dad, a simple-minded allusion that suggests the son may inherit the sins of his father —  is yet another in a series of artistically flaccid decisions. It’s simply the operating procedure here, as The Ties does little to distinguish itself in any singular way, failing even to craft substantive characters that might have cut through the film’s obvious derivative resolve.

Published as part of Venice International Film Festival 2020 — Dispatch 3.