The Keys to the House

Director: Gianni Amelio

Italy-France-Germany| 2004. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 105 min

From its cryptic opening to its quietly moving ‘open’ ending, Gianni Amelio’s film exerts a gentle yet powerful grip: nothing is forced, everything is observed with a warm, almost documentary eye. On Munich train station in the middle of the night, Paolo (Andrea Rossi), a 15-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy, is ‘delivered’ to his long-estranged, since re-married father Gianni (Kim Rossi Stuart). Gianni is tense and nervous; Paolo is spark out in the sleeper car. When Paolo wakes next day, Gianni—embarrassed and virtually paralysed by his own inadequacy—is soon won over by Paolo’s engaging personality, unquestioning affection and disarming humour.
In Berlin, Gianni takes Paolo to a specialist hospital, where his son patiently acquiesces to a scary-looking brain-scan and some gruelling physiotherapy. Shocked by the clinical coldness of these medical treatments, Gianni sees that what Paolo really needs is affection. This intuition is reinforced by his meeting with the serenely capable Nicole (Charlotte Rampling), whose selfless love for her own severely handicapped daughter has nevertheless taken its toll of her marriage and her individuality. The previously selfish and self-deluding Gianni senses what must be done; but Paolo’s rebellious temper tantrums and bouts of homesickness alert him to the scale of the challenge ahead. Even so, Gianni ‘rescues’ Paolo from the hospital, and together they set out on an impulsive journey to Norway, to see a beautiful young schoolgirl Paolo has only ‘met’ on the Internet.
Thanks to some extraordinary acting and Gianni Amelio’s directorial restraint, there is something deceptively slight and yet ineffably moving about every tiny thing that happens in this delicate, devastating film. You may well shed a tear or two.

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