Plot: In the 1980s, a popular radio presenter and storyteller suddenly grows indifferent to his marriage life. A series of betrayals open doors for a turbulent marriage that never quite recovers. Set between Naples and Rome, The Ties is a story of a marriage in crisis, but more importantly, its aftermath.
Daniele Luchetti’s The Ties treads familiar territory for the most part, but somehow manages to stay fresh, poignant and deeply affecting. A family drama that, while breaking no ground, is able to delve deeper into notions of betrayal, love and family.
Perhaps what sets this Italian drama, which opened the Venice Film Festival and is currently having its North American premiere at TIFF, apart from other similarly-themed dramas is its refusal to build up to any points of resolution. Within the film’s first thirty minutes, we already see a marriage breaking apart – and the rest of the film focuses on the repercussions rather than trying to build any sort of suspense or intrigue as to what the ultimate fate of that marriage could be. In turning this into a psychological drama with little moments of over-the-top confrontations, the film is much more rewarding as an interpretation of the agonizing power, or rather price, of love and what it means to grow up in a fractured home.
Several points of view are weaved into the film’s narrative structure. We first see the story from Vanda’s perspective (an excellent Alba Rohrwacher) – as the wife of Aldo (Luigi Lo Cascio) who simply grew indifferent to his responsibilities as a husband and father and chooses to indulge in an affair without much remorse. As Vanda goes throw a cycle of disbelief, agony, anger and denial, Aldo rarely questions what his decisions mean to the future of his family. The two’s widely different reactions to a deeply troubled household and a once-existing marriage strongly impact their children who are caught between contrasting perspectives.
The film shifts between the 1980s and the present, in which we see Aldo and Vanda reconciling, perhaps mysteriously at first. Cutting back and forth between those two time intervals, a clearer picture begins to emerge as to how Aldo’s affair could never be shaken off, and more importantly the lines between love and habit, complacency and choice couldn’t have been more blurred.
Though being overlong and risking to overplay some of its scenes, the film remains at its most powerful when examining Aldo and Vanda’s complicated, evolving relationship over the years. In what is undoubtedly the film’s strongest scene, the two finally confront each other, raising questions about whether love ever existed between them in the first place and whether their current existence in a household deserted by their now-adult children is a result of indifference, fear or mere convention.
The film’s final third then shifts gear to the children, now grown up yet still struggling in coming to terms with a troubled childhood. The pieces come together as the cycle of agony comes full circle, showing us that forgiveness sometimes should not be granted, especially if what caused it continues to haunt whoever is required to move on, a task that may be true in Aldo’s fairytale-like understanding of love and family but could not be much more distant and unimaginable by those on the other end of the spectrum.
In addressing the story of its troubled characters, unable to move on from a past that continues to be seen through every corner of the very same house that witnessed moments that simply would not be easily erased, the film asks viewers to reexamine the ‘ties’ that bind us to those we love, and whether by time, they remain as desirable, important and powerful or risk turning into some sort of convenient commitments that are too late to walk away from and too deeply rooted to simply ignore.
Verdict: An engrossing, affecting and thoughtful drama that may not break new ground and may risk being overly familiar due to its themes but nevertheless manages to engage its viewers thanks to excellent performances, carefully calibrated narrative shifts and well-crafted characters.
This review is from the 45th Toronto International Film Festival.