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Originally published Friday, November 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Hit by hard times in "Days and Clouds"

In Silvio Soldini's well-acted "Days and Clouds," Margherita Buy and Antonio Alabanese play a couple hit by hard times.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review3 stars

"Days and Clouds," with Margherita Buy, Antonio Alabanese, Alba Rohrwacher, Giuseppe Battiston. Directed by Silvio Soldini, from a screenplay by Doriana Leondeff, Francisco Piccolo, Frederica Pontremoli and Soldini. 115 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In Italian with English subtitles. Varsity.

Early in Silvio Soldini's "Days and Clouds," a middle-aged husband lies in bed, staring sadly at nothing, mentally wringing out the secret that he'll soon tell his wife. It's not about infidelity, as movie secrets so often are; instead, it's about something rather more timely. He has lost his job, some time ago, and needs to tell his wife that they can no longer afford their pretty, spacious apartment and their carefree lives.

Soldini's film is about the lightning bolt that changes a life and about what remains when the dust has settled. Michele (Antonio Alabanese) and Elsa (Margherita Buy) seem happy in the film's opening scenes; they have a grown daughter (Alba Rohrwacher), a busy social life and rewarding careers (though Elsa, a just-graduated student of art history, earns no income).

We learn quickly, though, of Michele's secret, and watch the mounting fear on Elsa's face as he tells her. As the apartment is packed up and Elsa and Michele go on a series of humiliating job interviews, both husband and wife seem to diminish before our eyes. ("I disappeared again," Elsa tells a friend she's been too preoccupied to call; indeed she has.)

Soldini (best known for the considerably sunnier "Bread and Tulips") pulls the camera in close on his two lead actors, and they reward him: Buy and Alabanese both give wrenching, heartfelt performances. Without the security of work and money, Elsa and Michele rarely smile; their faces become lines of worry. Their new and much smaller apartment feels claustrophobic and airless (a biting contrast to the first, a warmly lit warren of rooms), their new jobs a desperate lifeline.

A conventionally happy ending would make little sense here, and Soldini, who co-wrote the film with three other writers, resists the temptation to give us one. And yet, the film's artful final scene leaves us satisfied. "Days and Clouds," despite its darkness, warmly reminds us that if we have each other, sometimes that's all we need.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725

or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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