Luxury hotel inspector Irene Lorenzi visits a stunning Parisian lodge and soaks in the opulence of their largest suite. She runs her gloved fingers along every surface checking for dust, orders room service, and partakes in every offered amenity, thoroughly recording all of her findings before revealing her presence to the hotel manager and turning in her review. She sips their tea, lounges in their warmed bath towels, and pulls away in the Mercedes taxi with the automatic trunk. Save for a lone slipper found left under the bed, this hotel is seemingly fit for any lavish vacation or honeymoon, but Irene will tear it apart in her review.
Roman director Maria Sole Tognazzi primarily makes films about the minutia of intimate relationships, but here turns her focus to the relationship between an isolated woman and the fabricated world she inhabits. Irene (Margherita Buy), with her jet-setting and hypercritical focus, seems to have been living years without looking out of the windows of her hotel rooms. She travels the world only to see the inside of hotel lobbies. She describes her lifestyle as “free,” but after the umpteenth time missing a family event or being unavailable for a dinner due to her job, she wonders if “freedom” is the right word after all.
“A Five Star Life” is a quiet narrative piece that rises to a climax involving little more than a subtle mental shift in its characters’ points of view, but the travelogue aspects of the plot provide the film with an agreeable impetus. A track of narration runs over scenes of Irene’s inspections, describing the details of the details that make or break a five star accreditation. “Did the concierge smile? Was the clerk’s uniform clean and ironed?” It may seem like fluff work at first, but two or three hotel visits later and we, too, are able to understand the wobbly balance at which an ideal hospitality experience sits. Was the staff attentive, intuitive, and friendly? Or were they impatient, or perhaps overbearing? When truly looking for quality of service, it’s easy to come around to the idea that, yes, a single smile or helpful tip can be the difference between four and five stars. It’s unsurprising that Ivan Cotroneo, one of the film’s three writers, has written criticism for Rolling Stone.
Back home, Irene contends with holding on to her very few once-a-month relationships. Her sister Silvia (Fabrizia Sacchi) sees cracks in her marriage at the same time as her best friend (and ex-lover) Andrea (Stefano Accorsi) finds himself the father of an unwanted child. Suddenly, her home life demands her presence – something Irene can’t reliably offer, and she begins to wonder what she’s missing while living a five star life.
Margherita Buy won a David di Donatello Award for Best Actress in this role, and while Irene never hits more than a few emotional beats, the remarkable comfort level at which Buy inhabits the character is an effective on-screen glue to some of the less desirable aspects of the production.
Buy renders Irene with the mysterious air of a spy on a top-secret mission. When an inevitable opportunity for romance strikes, Buy plays the moment in a way that suggests this could be either something entirely off limits, or something that’s happened dozens of times. This moment of ambiguity, and a later one involving a much needed slap-to-the-face cameo by Lesley Manville (“Maleficent,” “Another Year”) break up what is otherwise a quite dry screenplay.
Despite having shot nearly 85 features in 25 years, Arnaldo Catinari, the film’s cinematographer, habitually overexposes the highlights in nearly every scene. To the detriment of the story, there is more often than not a completely blown out lampshade or window tugging the eye away from the characters in the frame.
There’s also no clear style established, with some shots taking on the slick crane-lifted camera movement of a luxury car commercial, and others seeking documentarian realism. An odd editing rhythm that cuts between many, many angles in a simple one-on-one dialogue scene can be similarly frustrating by offering too much chaos aesthetically. Without a unified visual approach, “A Five Star Life” may be a satisfactory slice-of-life experience, and it does contain interesting insight into the world of hotel criticism, but it doesn’t achieve the easily watchable charm of similar on-the-road dramedy fare.Continue Reading Issue #19
Italian, French, English
September 2014 (US, limited)
1 hr. 25 min.
Maria Sole Tognazzi
Margherita Buy, Stefano Accorsi, Fabrizia Sacchi, Gianmarco Tognazzi, Lesley Manville,