The lead character in an Oscar Wilde play once opined “I’ve now realised for the first time in my life the vital importance of being Ernest” – although highly regarded in its native Italy, The Girl by the Lake succeeds in being earnest but never really manages to capture the imagination in the way a great crime drama should.
Very much a slow-burner rather than action thriller, the film commences with a young girl walking home after spending the night at her Aunt’s house. Her village is beautiful and the surrounding mountains confirm this place as an idyll. The sense that something nasty is going to happen becomes palpable, however, when she is offered a ride in a red van, before the action moves to the discovery that a young woman is dead by the picturesque lake of the title. Numerous suspects seem good for the crime, and an outsider – Commissario Sanzio (Toni Servillo) – is brought in to aid the local constabulary in their search for answers.
Servillo is asked to play the same tired, hard detective most audiences will be all too familiar with, and that he is able to make his character even remotely interesting is to his credit. Sanzio is bothered by the usual affliction of middle-aged male detectives – an unhappy family life – although at least he isn’t a divorcee. His quiet dignity means that at its heart the film has a degree of appeal, and Servillo gives a subtle performance of significant strength.
Unfortunately, the action moves around Sanzio at snail’s pace, with the rather brief running time of only 95 minutes seeming like far longer. Supporting characters move in and out of proceedings without it ever becoming clear what their significance is, while the eventual resolutions are straightforward. Not for director Andrea Molaioli the twists and turns of a M. Night Shyamalan film.
Supporting roles include Valeria Golino – most recently seen on Australian screens in 36 Quai des Orfèvres in 2004 but possibly best remembered by English-speaking audiences opposite Charlie Sheen in the Hot Shots series. Anna Bonaiuto and Fabrizio Gifuni were both nominated for David di Donatello Awards for their roles, while the film finished with 7 wins including the best actor, best director and best film treble.
The development of the television crime drama genre in recent years means the difference between big and small screen offerings has reduced, and in many ways this will work against The Girl by the Lake. A solid if unspectacular entry in the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.Rating: