The title card for Quiet Bliss is overlaid on a curious wide shot where a street worker offers water to the film’s stressed leads. It’s a strange sight preceding a story with a similar theme (aid and dignity from unexpected places), but a sadly dissimilar and conventional tone. One of the leads, the patriarch of a business-owning household, is imprisoned over a money-making scheme gone awry and the three generations of women left behind must retreat from their clothing factory to a rural property and sell produce in order to chip away at their debts. In the process, they rediscover the nobility of labour and a humble spirituality that binds them together, in a film that carries a wistful aesthetic, but can’t sustain the narrative framework it builds with that.
Celeste Casciaro is admirable as middle-generation matriarch Adele, with a cold exterior that accentuates moments of volatility, but also genuine gladness in good company. This is most often in conversation with Gustavo Caputo as Stefano, a shy pencil-pusher whose systematic wisdom salves the family’s wounds from struggling under capitalist bureaucracy. His is the most impressive performance of the film, standing toe-to-toe as an idiosyncratic screen presence with Casciaro and Laura Lichetta, the only two professional actors in the cast. Edoaro Winspeare fosters understated and realistic warmth between them and other characters, even when they are acting in unsavoury ways.
Visually, the film provides gorgeous escapist pleasures by gliding across country roads and capturing the town of Salento in magic hour. These are scored with an absence of music and an immaculately subtle soundscape, making the environments deeply immersive. Winspeare knows how to shoot them effectively, and he sometimes overreaches but ultimately succeds with his attempts at visual luminescence.1 There’s a satisfying tactility here that should make for a transportive pleasure among the festival line-up.
Where the film stumbles is its plotting. Its multiple plot strands find enough high points to save being intolerable, but they are too hastily resolved in the final stretch, and with unhelpful dollops of cliche. Bad girl Ina (Laura Lichetta) shows apathy and ineptitude when Stefano startes to tutor her, and her change into a more responsible student feels hurriedly mandated. Adele’s sister Maria Concetta (Barbara De Matteis) aspires to be a star performer despite not looking conventionally attractive, and there’s little more to add to that diversion by the final scene. Where these plotlines lean towards being unconventional, particularly with a romance by Adele’s mother Salvatrice (Anna Boccadamo), they’re undercooked, so there are no surprises to be had. This feels especially bizarre when the family receives an astoundingly cute pet that’s more interesting than the later scenes it appears in.2 Given that those same scenes enact a slide into melodrama – not necessarily a bad thing, but disappointing given the vibrant and meditative first half – it’s a nagging problem, but one that’s ultimately negligible in light of simpler stylistic pleasures that the movie provides.
The original title literally translates as “In Thanks of God”, which fits the movie’s focus on the dignity of work but is more of an invocation of heavy thematic material than anything therein. While the protagonist desperately prays to the Madonna and her mother wields rosary beads, the spirituality of the film is primarily expressed through hushed environmental ambience, as the characters work the land and earn back their keep. In the end, the film is exactly as calming and temporary as those scattered moments, admirably authentic but not sustaining that focus well enough to earn anymore than the very lightest of recommendations.