Locarno 2022 review: The Adventures of Gigi the Law (Alessandro Comodin)

“There is more than enough pleasure, creativity, and humanism to be found in this lovely fragment of daily life in the Italian countryside.”

Italian filmmaker Alessandro Comodin returns to Locarno, the site of his international breakthrough when 2011’s Summer of Giacomo won the top prize in the festival’s Filmmakers of the Present strand, with a luminous, deceptively modest new work in The Adventures of Gigi the Law. The English title of this enjoyable effort, which brings Comodin a well-deserved promotion to the festival’s main competition for the Golden Leopard, can be slightly misleading since the minor episodes that keep the titular protagonist mildly occupied can hardly be considered as exciting “adventures.” But this is precisely the point; Gigi’s story is set in a sleepy border town in rural Italy, where nothing seems to happen. Almost, but not quite. This charming ride through a peaceful town is briefly interrupted by a series of suspicious events, but maintains a cheerful tone throughout. Buoyed by a memorable performance by Pier Luigi Mecchia, who appears in practically every scene and will be a major contender for the festival’s best actor prize, Gigi can attract considerable interest from festival programmers and adventurous distributors.

The extended opening scene presents an argument between two neighbours about the tall trees in their messy garden. Gigi, a friendly police officer who spends his days driving around town on patrol duty, refuses to cut his trees despite the obvious problems they cause for his neighbours. This is the first of several lengthy sequences executed in mostly static long takes. Another self-imposed constraint favoured by Comodin is the decision to shoot most of the film inside Gigi’s car, which brings a degree of mobility and confinement reminiscent of famous Iranian films by Abbas Kiarostami or Jafar Panahi. Compared to these masters, Comodin’s approach is driven less by social commentary (as in Kiarostami’s Ten or Panahi’s Taxi) or a profound search for the poetic (along the lines of Taste of Cherry or The Wind Will Carry Us). Instead, Gigi the Law presents a more nonchalant, playful alternative primarily built on quotidian details and slyly humorous encounters.

Even during its most uneventful passages, Gigi the Law hints at a darker side lurking behind the bright surface. A body is found on the train tracks near the town, an unexplained wave of suicides is briefly mentioned, and Gigi may or may not be taking advantage of his position to stalk a man called Tomaso. The officers are not exactly fond of their boss and keep talking about a new colleague named Paola, whose voice over the police radio becomes a welcome distraction (or perhaps even an obsession) for Gigi. But instead of exploiting all of these elements for high-stakes drama, Comodin treats them as temporary deviations from Gigi’s unhurried patrol routine. The cumulative effect is stronger than any individual sequence as we get to see Gigi from multiple perspectives, with all his charm and flaws, in his moments of both strength and vulnerability. He is not a typical film “hero” by any means (the fact that he works as a police officer is a particularly ironic choice in that sense), but his kindness and optimism persist despite the failures that make him all the more human.

Comodin finds plenty of creative ways to expand the confines of the car without crossing the threshold to the outside world. Clever editing provides smooth transitions between various conversations in the car, with several characters occupying the passenger seat at different times. Off-screen sound is effectively used to convey crucial information about the characters, some of whom remain invisible in the back seat. The centerpiece of the film comes in the form of a lovely duet sung by two police officers, when Gigi and a colleague sing Julio Iglesias’s “Sono un Pirata, Sono un Signore” in a sequence leading into a beautifully dreamlike detour. This scene is echoed later in the film when Paola and Gigi share a similar moment of musical joy and nostalgia. Despite its seemingly improvisational style, The Adventures of Gigi the Law features many instances of such narrative symmetry, revealing a more sophisticated structure than the apparent simplicity of the film might initially suggest.

Comodin successfully combines a quasi-documentary approach with stylistic devices that elevate his film without drawing too much attention to themselves. These episodes about a middle-aged police officer may not add up to an especially compelling or ambitious cinematic experience. But there is more than enough pleasure, creativity, and humanism to be found in this lovely fragment of daily life in the Italian countryside.