When something is lost, people hold more tightly to what remains. Thus it is that, after his wife unexpectedly drops dead, the protagonist of the gently poignant Quiet Chaos can’t let their 10-year-daughter stray far from his sight.
Every school day, Italian media executive Pietro (played by co-scripter Nanni Moretti) settles into the park across from the school and waits for Claudia (Blu Yoshimi). He doesn’t know exactly why he does this, and if he’s waiting for a revelation, this movie won’t provide one. It’s too low-key for that.
Based on Sandro Veronesi’s novel, a bestseller in Italy, Quiet Chaos begins with an ironic prologue. While playing a form of ping-pong on the beach, Pietro and his brother Carlo (Alessandro Gassman) notice two women flailing in the surf. The men pull them to safety, and are not thanked for their efforts.
Incensed and a little self-impressed, the brothers drive back to Pietro’s summer villa, where they discover the limits of their lifesaving powers: Lara, Pietro’s wife, is dead, and Claudia demands to know where her father was.
The question suggests that Claudia blames Pietro, and that Quiet Chaos will build to the moment when the girl howls her resentment. But this is no melodrama, and neither the widower nor his daughter is openly mournful. In fact, Pietro worries that they haven’t been sufficiently affected.
All Pietro can do is visit the park every day, make lists in his head and develop daily routines with the other regulars. These include a boy with Down syndrome, a coffee-bar owner with gourmet ambitions and a beautiful woman with a large dog.
Because his company is in the midst of a controversial merger with an American firm, Pietro’s colleagues wonder where he stands. Some of them come to see him, but he doesn’t have much to say.
Other visitors attend him in the park, as well, including his high-strung sister-in-law (Valeria Golino) and his brother, who looks like a male model and turns out to be the man behind Weirdo Jeans, a popular denim brand. (The camera finds the logo on all the best bottoms.)
Ultimately, Claudia makes a decision about how she and her father should proceed. Also, in the movie’s most stereotypically Euro art-cinema moment, Pietro experiences a sort of catharsis while having rough sex with a woman he barely knows.
One more resolution: The boss of the merged company comes to see Pietro in the park. We don’t hear what they discuss, but the joke is that the CEO role is a cameo by a moderately notorious film-world character.
Moretti is a director (though not of this film) as well an actor. Quiet Chaos lacks the thematic complexity of his own best movies — including The Son’s Room, a meditation on similar themes. Rather than emphasize their own concerns, director Antonello Grimaldi and the screenwriters are clearly attempting to be as faithful as possible to the novel, complete with its fixation on Radiohead; the band’s “Pyramid Song” is one of the few tunes on the soundtrack.
Quiet Chaos may be too … well… quiet for many viewers. But Moretti, who’s in nearly every scene, proves a remarkably sympathetic figure. And the subtly modulated sequence of bitter and sweet moments expresses just what it intends: sorrow, wonder and acceptance. (Recommended)