The sense of foreboding is unpalatable in the D’Innocenzos brothers Bad Tales. The wait for why there is such a festering malaise in this unnamed suburb of Rome that the film is set in is intoxicating but eventually becomes quite frustrating, as the film draws near to its 98 minute close.
We are witness to unsavoury events throughout that flag why a lot of the child characters are non-vocal around the adults, but we are also left starved of further depth as to why things continue to happen the way they do. In overplaying the subtle, unspoken card, the D’Innocenzos miss delivering some crucial conclusions and leave other sub plots dangling without consequence. On the other hand, it could be argued that what is left to the imagination is more potent than anything depicted on screen, which is why reviewing Bad Tales feels like a troubling conundrum too – it is subjective in the extreme.
There is a sense almost of the supernatural at work in the heart of Italian suburbia, that one villain of the piece will eventually rear its ugly head to explain the flagrant disregard by those in charge of the younger folk. We see the Placido family run by tyrannical patriarch played by Elio Germano. His young teenage son Dennis (an alluring Tommaso Di Cola) bears the brunt of his suppressed emotions and machismo. Di Cola is full of hope and curiosity that the audience relies on to discover the source of the ‘rot’. We are even made to follow the journey of young Geremia (Justin Korovkin who is mesmerising to watch) with intrigue as an indicator of this too.
The D’Innocenzos do tap into the neighbourly farce of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, depicting jealousy and schadenfreude. Pietro Rosa (Max Malatesta) is another highly-strung macho male and questionable ‘friend’ of Placido Sr. Their parenting style dominates the family environment and chips away at the emotional well-being of all involved. But there is an even greater threat from their personalities that causes alarm for those innocents around them as they eye up a female neighbour. Both Germano and Malatesta are successful in triggering the viewer’s contempt for their respective father figures. However, we are never given any insight into why they behave the way they do in the first place. Their spouses barely register in the status quo.
In a way the destruction of innocence first set up by the D’Innocenzos brothers’ dreamy cinematography as the balmy school summer break begins is the narrative’s cynical objective. It is as though childhood is a social construct elsewhere, therefore, without it being made a key factor in this environment – or quashing it when life begins to get too idyllic – nothing is deemed sacred. Everything is open to corruption. This allows antisocial and uncivilized nature to breed. It really is as though the elders resent the youth and set out to stunt their growth. The ‘revenge’ of children is unexpected and darker still.
In that respect, the D’Innocenzos brothers’ inject a few dead-end plots, such as young Ada (Laura Borgioli) set up to help Dennis achieve sexual awakening, or the appearance of a teacher (Lino Musella) near the end who is obviously more than just an educator of the impressionable minds in his classroom. It is such examples that feel woefully unexplored and cause further frustration. More over, the identity of the narrator is never revealed either, but he must be a survivor as he has lived to tell the tale.
Bad Tales is a suburban tragedy that ends without a clear perspective of what the D’Innocenzos brothers’ real intentions are: Short of having an opinion on fabricated commuter towns with fake populations (and lives) within them – hence the ending of who actually gets to ‘escape’, it is hard to tell what the audience should make of it all. One thing for sure is the age of innocence is a very precious commodity that needs protecting in this.