Basically a good murder mystery, ‘The Right Distance’ brings in contemporary issues like anti-foreign prejudices, marriages arranged with Eastern European women online, kids with computer smarts adults lack, and how these changes disrupt life in a little town. A beautiful young woman named Mara (Valentina Lodovini) comes to replace a schoolteacher in the Po Valley. Trouble ensues. One person in town doesn’t miss a trick: 18-year-old Giovanni (Giovanni Capovilla). He is highly motivated to become a journalist and has persuaded Bengivenga (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), an editor at a big city paper, to allow him to work as a low-profile stringer in the town. His job is to keep his eyes and ears peeled without anybody finding out that he’s a reporter. Naturally, he’s good with the Internet. He helps Mara set up her connection and in the course of dong so finds out her email password. Giovanni checks in on it from home and starts reading the accounts of day to day experiences she emails to her best girlfriend back home. Thus over time he finds out that she’s attracted to the local bus driver, Guido (Stefano Scandaletti), and that Hassan (Ahmed Hefiane), who runs the garage he himself works in, is attracted to her–and is stalking her outside her house in the dark. He also knows that Amos (Giuseppe Battiston), the tobacconist who’s making a fortune taking people fishing, went out in his boat with Mara and made some moves on her. It’s Amos who has the Romanian wife chosen from an online “catalog.” Hassan is an older (but handsome) Tunisian man. He has family members in the area but isn’t married. He has been in Italy a long time.
An odd plot twist comes when Mara discovers he’s stalking her, yet dates him.
Somebody is killing the dogs in the area. As Giovanni reports in one of his stories for the city paper, this was the original M.O. of the “serial killer of Milwaukee.” Mara’s connection with Hassan leads to trouble.
The title refers to some of Bencivegna’s advice to Giovanni on how to be a good reporter. Don’t get too close to your subjects, maintain your objectivity. The irony is that it’s precisely getting too close that gets him his best story.
The film has a surprise extended coda in which a crime and a trial have taken place, but Giovanni goes back and researches the results and discovers the real guilty party. He has already been hired by this time as a reporter on his mentor Bencivegna’s newspaper and is living in the worse quarter of Milan but loving his new life. Newcomer Capovilla is adorable, and the film is skillful in keeping the theme of his journalistic efforts alive without letting it distract us from the film’s study of character and locale that makes it interesting as a story. Mara is soulful and attractive; it’s believable that she’d galvanize all the men around. The town is little more than a scattering of houses and businesses, and its vulnerability to whatever forces enter it is clear. In most of ‘The Right Distance’ Giovanni is in the background, hovering, reentering occasionally with a bit of voice-over. Part of the neat construction of the film is the way Giovanni’s efforts as a journalist (stories that get little space in the paper, and others that do, finally the crime story he breaks that appears in all the major news outlets) is quietly woven into an overall picture that is much larger. In this sense director Mazzacurati does maintain “the right distance.” An entertaining film and a well-told tale.
Shown as part of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center, June 2008.