While those loud and decidedly non-cinematic Marvel movies clog up screens at googolplexes from coast to coast, perfectly good films of a more traditional mien struggle to break out of the arthouse circuit. Sometimes, they don’t even make it that far.
This week’s deserving but ill-treated feature is Il testimone invisibile (The Invisible Witness), an Italian suspenser that played at the San Francisco International Film Festival earlier this year. I missed it then, but it’s getting an encore screening at San Francisco’s Vogue Theatre on Friday, as part of the mini-festival ‘Cinema Italian Style’.
Directed by Stefano Mordini and produced by a little outfit known as Warner Brothers Europe, The Invisible Witness stars Riccardo Scarmacio as Adriano Doria (presumably not to be confused with the benighted ocean liner Andrea Doria), a Turin tech magnate with a beautiful wife, a delightful child and buckets full of money. Naturally, he’s unsatisfied and unfulfilled with his lot in life and has been engaged in an extramarital affair with fashion photographer and visual artist Laura Vitale (Miriam Leone).
The affair ends — and the film begins — with her murder in a hotel room as the couple are preparing to deliver 100,000 Euros worth of blackmail money to the unknown person who’s threatening to reveal their shame to the world. We don’t see who commits the murder, but Adriano is immediately arrested and charged; the balance of The Invisible Witness will slowly and carefully reveal the truth regarding his guilt or innocence.
That truth will be revealed largely through the intervention of Virginia Ferrara (Maria Paiato), a brilliant investigator hired by Adriano’s lawyer Paolo to help ferret out further details of the incident from his reticent client. And ferret she does, quite brilliantly — as she urges Adriano to “pay attention to details”, he finds himself opening up and revealing more about himself and his affair with Laura than he ever intended.
How did the killer enter the hotel room? Who is the man missing from Molveno? And what about that intriguing text message on his cellphone? Virginia seems to know more about it than Adriano does, and eventually we will, too — but all in good time.
Much of The Invisible Witness’s story is told via flashback, a hoary and old-fashioned technique that Sordini uses effectively and carefully. His screenplay (co-written with Massimiliano Cantoni) eschews trickiness in favor of attention to those all important details — indeed, viewers are advised to pay very close attention to everything they see on screen, as it will all come into play before the film is over.
Watching Adriano twist in the wind as the razor-sharp Virginia dissects his story reminded me of that memorable couplet from Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Marmion’ — “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” You don’t get much more old-fashioned than that, which may explain why this absolutely terrific film produced by a major studio isn’t getting the wide release it deserves.