Mirko Pincelli’s The Habit of Beauty surprisingly manages to merge both styles of an elegant indie flick and a gritty urban drama to display the vastly different lives of his well-developed characters.
When the young son of Ernesto (Vincenzo Amato) and Elena (Francesca Neri) is killed in an accident, the two split apart, devastated by the loss. Three years later, Ernesto tries to revitalise his career as a photographer by taking on the young tearaway, Ian (Nico Mirallegro), as a protégé for a new exhibition, with the assistance of his ex-wife who has found a new relationship with businessman Stuart (Noel Clarke). What takes place is a heart-on-sleeve study of love and loss, as the couple are seemingly brought back together through Ernesto’s life threatening illness.
” a perfect depiction of the most extreme of human emotions”
The opening scenes, whilst recounting the death of Ernesto and Elena’s son, are handled with pure perfection. We are subtly shown Ernesto’s profession immediately, and the cause of the death, but Pincelli’s direction relies on the tranquil landscape to display peace rather than any distressing imagery. Many of the scenes have extremely stylish cinematography. Of note are a vignette of Elena swimming in a pool alone, mirrored by the final metaphorical scene of Ernesto submerging himself in a lake in Italy. Both are captivatingly brilliant.
By contrast, the life of Ian is believably grim. He is bullied by local gang members for being branded a ‘snitch’, whilst his grotesque alcoholic father Adam (played terrifyingly by Nick Moran) shows no love for his own child. Ernesto and Ian’s relationship blossoms as the film progresses and the acting between them proves this; Pincelli manages to capture the fact that Ian almost becomes the son that Ernesto has lost. Interestingly, when Ernesto trusts the key to his apartment to Ian, it seems as if that indicates the end to his womanising ways. At the start of the film, his plush apartment is filled with nude party-goers. Whilst something which seems out of place at first, as these women disappear when Ian becomes more involved with his father-figure, these scenes are ultimately crucial in displaying Ernesto’s desire to display his love for Elena, which never went away, before he is taken ill.
Elena and Ernesto’s dialogue comes only in small doses, but this gives the ultimate satisfaction. Even the fact that they speak Italian together, as nobody else in the London scenes do, displays their natural connection to each other – a touch that is simple yet effective. Noel Clarke’s character also adds weight to his and Elena’s dying relationship. He clearly depicts the frustration of being an alpha male sidelined by another, with typical, yet slightly more subdued, aggression that he shows in Kidulthood etc.
The themes of love and loss are nothing new to cinema, but The Habit of Beauty shines as a perfect depiction of the most extreme of human emotions. Captured brilliantly in London and Italy, Pincelli’s desire to fuse worldwide talents into a fictional tale that matters to all has certainly been achieved. It is an anxious and striking exploration.
Image: Mirko Pincelli