Berlinale 2023 review: The Last Night of Amore (Andrea Di Stefano)

The Last Night of Amore is an accomplished genre exercise, distinguished by first-rate performances and strong craft contributions.”

One last job on the eve of retirement. As everybody who has seen a few films in their lifetime probably knows, it always goes wrong. And so it does for Franco Amore, whose spotless record after 35 years in the police force comes undone during a fateful night in Andrea Di Stefano’s superbly crafted, consistently engaging crime thriller The Last Night of Amore (L’Ultima Notte di Amore). This stylish effort will likely enjoy a strong box office run in its home turf Italy, where it opens theatrically in early March following a high-profile gala in Berlin. Boosted by the presence of Pierfrancesco Favino, one of the most internationally recognizable faces in contemporary Italian cinema, Di Stefano’s third feature is one of the most enjoyable films to debut at this year’s Berlinale and has considerable breakout potential. There are no surprises in Amore’s story, but there is a certain pleasure in seeing this old-fashioned tale unfold once again, this time executed with great skill and efficiency reminiscent of a Johnnie To picture.

A memorable credit sequence introduces the film’s setting, a nocturnal Milan, before closing in on a house party organized to celebrate Franco’s retirement. But the hero of the day is nowhere to be seen at first, returning from an evening jog in a somewhat unsettled state. A flashback reveals events from ten days ago and partially explains why Franco is in such disarray. It turns out that Franco has recently met a Chinese business tycoon thanks to his wife Viviana’s cousin and accepted a transportation job that will pay handsomely for just an hour’s work. It goes without saying that the tycoon’s business is not strictly legal, nor is the job as simple as promised. Unexpected complications arise and lead to the film’s most impressive set-piece, a convoluted shoot-out which takes place under a bridge on a busy highway, with multiple cars speeding by. Franco’s best friend and long-time partner Dino is killed alongside multiple gang members and corrupt police officers, leaving Franco as the lone survivor with a small bag of precious diamonds. As the film comes full circle to the party sequence from the opening, we understand that an eventful night is just starting and there won’t be much to celebrate for this honest family man.

Favino brings both psychological depth and a relatable “common man” quality to his character. Instead of the mechanics of the crime story, what stands out the most in The Last Night of Amore is Franco’s multi-faceted portrayal. He struggles to deal with the loss of his partner, leaving a son behind and accused of moonlighting for a criminal organization. Franco has a chance to get away with it, but he is burdened by guilt as a conscientious man who does not want his deceased friend to take all the blame. His relationship with Viviana, likewise, adds another layer to the film. The couple share a wonderful rapport and genuine love (there is a joke about Franco repeatedly calling Viviana “an angel” and she says she fell in love with him at first sight), but her behavior after the shoot-out surprises, or even frustrates, Franco. While he is traumatized by the events and simply wants to find a safe way out, she treats this crime as an opportunity to get wealthy and goes to unexpected lengths to turn the situation in her favor. Favino’s superb performance captures Franco’s hesitation, confusion, and growing despair skillfully.

The other notable aspect of Favino’s portrayal is how he is able to turn Franco into a normal, relatable person. Ordinary men facing extraordinary crises constitute a well-known trope of the genre and Favino’s Franco perfectly fits the bill. His struggle to financially support his daughter, disillusionment about getting paid a meager salary for all his sacrifices, and the bitterness of his failure to advance in his career despite decades of dedicated service all make Franco a “regular” guy as opposed to a heroic figure. He is not a symbol of strength, he is merely forced to adapt to unusual circumstances. He struggles to write his retirement speech, carries an aura of fatalism rather than invincibility, and knows only too well that he may not get out of this trouble after all. Favino has the rare ability to keep such a character convincing and captivating; at no point in the film does Franco undergo a sudden transformation, act in inconsistent ways, or become uninteresting as a protagonist.

The Last Night of Amore takes over two hours to reach a familiar destination, but the ride is very smooth. This is a highly polished film with magnificent camerawork, beautiful use of color in nighttime scenes, and a pulsating musical score. Part of the pleasure in viewing the film comes from its sleek design. Much of the second half takes place in the same location (the highway), yet Di Stefano manages to keep the proceedings tense and kinetic throughout. The Last Night of Amore is an accomplished genre exercise, distinguished by first-rate performances and strong craft contributions.

(c) Image copyright: Loris T. Zambelli