There’s naturally a lot of recycling in “Lonely Voices,” given its lead character’s line of work but there’s none to be found anywhere else in Andrea Brusa and Marco Scotuzzi refreshingly original comedy, following Giovanni (Giovanni Storti) to Poland where he has found employment helping to smelt aluminum as a crane operator at a scrapyard, a job no longer available to him in his native Italy after the country has been hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus. The gig will allow him to send home a much-needed 900 euros a month, yet it also requires him to be away from his wife Rita (Alessandra Faiella) and teenage son Pietro (Davide Calgaro), who clearly miss him as they sit in isolation, hearing of neighbors who are running out of cash and letting their imaginations run wild with where they could be if Giovanni hadn’t moved away.
Neither an audience nor Giovanni could expect where the seeds of this clever comedy are first planted when it happens, but Rita’s suggestion that they cook together over FaceTime when he’s have no idea how to prepare spaghetti himself turns into a viral sensation when Pietro posts the video online, amused by their bickering over how big to slice the tomatoes and how brusquely he grinds garlic. (At Rita’s insistence that love is an ingredient more important than any other, Giovanni can only say as he’s splattered, “All this oil, I’m drenched in love.”) Their arguments lead to popularity on YouTube where they are sought out by sponsors eager for product placement and their every move is celebrated and scrutinized by others, with Giovanni largely unaware of any of it as tends to his 9 to 5 if not for Rita’s updates while she clearly starts enjoying the money and minor celebrity that the videos bring.
After Zoom has become a default for COVID-related features, the cinematic possibilities of “Lonely Voices” are immediate as Brusa and Scotuzzi enter the aluminum factory where Giovanni toils and ingeniously works within the most stringent limits possible on a production, never requiring more than two actors in a room at any one time and constrained to three distinct locations, but constantly feels as if it’s moving between worlds rather than ever feeling trapped in one. Shuttling between Gio’s cold, aquamarine flat in Poland and the apartment he and Rita have spent most of their lives in Italy, full of warmth and yellow tile that grows artificially bright as she becomes more famous, the film’s lively staging adds to its gently intriguing plot as the married couple keep the main connection, but Giovanni begins to confide in a co-worker from Cameroon off-screen in in a way he no longer can with his wife and Pietro, who starts busying himself as a manager securing media appearances for Rita and endorsement deals, relays the viral success they’re having, allowing a few details to become a vivid, full picture.
When the entire world is allowed to have an opinion of Rita and Giovanni’s relationship, some anonymous criticism is bound to sting as their notoriety grows, but the filmmakers take a far less obvious and much more interesting route in tackling another pernicious dynamic when cutting back to the aluminum factory in Poland, which becomes a reflection for all the hard labor Giovanni puts his back into for shekels while Rita receives compensation in attention and in money for the frivolous influencer videos she makes. Disillusionment is bound to set in for the pair as Rita comes to bring in far more income than Giovanni, but it’s strikingly clear for a view as well from the simple, effective set-up Brusa and Scotuzzi are able to extrapolate so much else from and while there are plenty of laughs as Rita and Giovanni discover how to monetize their fights, the punchline regarding what we value as a culture hits you straight in the gut.
“Lonely Voices” will screen at the Seattle Film Festival on April 21st at 6 pm at the SIFF Cinema Uptown and April 22nd at 3:30 pm at the AMC Pacific Place. It is also now available to stream virtually via the SIFF platform through the end of the festival on April 24th.