Don’t Call It Love

Disturbing film about doctor’s shameless sexual violence somehow captured Italy’s heart

Call me naive, but taking a doctor who lives a privileged life, and having him commit what amounts to serial rape against a destitute women, is not the makings of a great love story in my book.

“Don’t Move” opens with the doctor, Timoteo (Sergio Castellitto), awaiting news of his daughter’s critical operation. She’s suffered a severe head trauma after a motorcycle accident and as his colleagues operate, he reminisces about the time his car broke down and a destitute woman allowed him to user her phone. He thanks the woman, named Italia (Penelope Cruz), by raping her. When he goes to apologize to her, he pretty much rapes her again. Timoteo is a cold fish who doesn’t appreciate his wife, Elsa (Claudia Gerini), a character who will strain the credulity of many viewers with her willingness to accept his many excuses for not being home as he keeps returning to Italia’s hovel for more angry, rough sex. At one point, he nabs her in an alley and screws her against some wooden crates during a rainstorm. At times, Timoteo treats his wife to some of the same.

The film, the highest grossing in Italy last year, is based on a novel by Margaret Mazzantini, who described this as the “story of a man who asks women to forgive him in the rain.” There is, however, a big difference between a story of forgiveness and redemption and one simply about people making stupid, even criminal decisions and then justifying them on the high alter of love. The introduction of a vague “angel” element does nothing to mitigate the corruption and solipsism at the doctor’s core.

Shortly after meeting Italia, Timoteo writes “I raped a woman” in the sand at the beach and his wife doesn’t even notice it. He also tells a woman across the way all of his sins at the top of his voice, and Elsa somehow reduces that to background noise. Timoteo acts out in other ways, ranging from the silly (peeing on his wife’s plants) to the irresponsible (ditching a work trip by feigning heart trouble) to the despicable (kicking his in-laws’ dog under the table). But because he is a doctor, his veneer of respectability hides a lot of sins, and no one ever seems to hold him accountable.

When Italia gets pregnant, Timoteo is forced to face some realities, which is long overdue. He is a man who desperately wants some kind of punishment without actually coming clean about any of his sins.

It’s hard not to pity Cruz’s Italia, who is basically a wretch here. She’s never known real love, and at the time she meets Timoteo, she is facing eviction from the hovel where she lives which her grandfather has sold to a rising apartment complex that has come to surround it. Her abusive, impoverished background is presumably intended to explain her willingness to mistake a repeat rapist for someone who might actually love her.

Much has been made in the press about Penelope Cruz’s appearance in “Don’t Move,” as if it’s akin to Charlize Theron’s utter transformation in “Monster.” But Cruz, even with her hair a mess, her face dirty and a general run-down, haggard countenance, is still pretty damned gorgeous. Her real challenge here is playing a character who seems to not have even one ounce of respect for herself. It is pretty interesting to watch Cruz as she delivers that characterization.

Don’t Move” is well produced and Castellitto, who is also the film’s director, achieves some beautiful moments visually, but if you go in expecting redeeming love, you will be disappointed. If you’re okay with spending two hours with a womanizing jerk who’s detached from his deepest feelings, and seeing what it takes to finally bring them to the surface, then the film will provide some rewarding moments along with the beautifully shot scenes.

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