Like many good police movies, Allessandro Comodin’s Gigi the Law is permeated by the underlying sense that something’s simply not quite right in the world. Mystery lies behind the sun-splattered open fields of San Michele al Tagliamento, a small town in northern Italy that Gigi (Pier Luigi Mecchia, the director’s uncle and a real-life cop), a genial yet slightly inept police officer, spends his time patrolling. It might have something to do with the dead body found on the train tracks in the beginning of the film, which could be a suicide and could be a murder; or it might have to do with the amusingly tense nighttime argument between Gigi and his neighbor over Gigi’s garden—the neighbor thinks “trees make the place dirty”—rendered both more ominous and more absurd by the fact that the neighbor remains the whole time hidden from us behind a wall of greenery and Gigi, framed in profile, appears only as a silhouette.
Gigi’s restless curiosity gently spreads itself over the film, much as it colors his languorous days driving through the beautiful and bland open fields of his province. Unlike most screen cops, Gigi is more interested in simply wandering around, idly taking in his environs, than in getting to the bottom of things. He spends most of the film flirting with his dispatcher, catching up with local farmers, and singing along to pop songs. His bumbling humor and nonchalance dominate any suspense that might be generated from the dead bodies or trips to the sanitorium that make up the film’s darker notes. Comodin’s vision is as generous as Gigi’s, crafting a relaxed rhythm, content to patiently explore the endless possibilities that lie behind even the most mundane elements.
A sense of curiosity is also generated through Comodin’s perceptive mise-en-scène which uses static, unassuming frames to set up clearly delineated boundaries of onscreen and offscreen space, making us wonder what we can’t see. When Comodin captures the discovery of a dead body through the locked-in view of the patrol’s car front window, completely eliding the body and the discovery itself in favor of the image of a highway train crossing, we consider the banal details of the location as much as the causes of the mystery.
Over the course of the film, Comodin’s ability to cultivate curiosity in the ordinary builds up to a fabulistic sense of wonder where even space and time become slightly malleable. Gigi’s uniform days begin to take on the dimensions of a puzzle as the film subtly manipulates spatial and temporal logic to pleasantly discombobulating effect. Conversations delivered in routine patterns of shot / reverse shot are unsettled with rhyming shots that use the interchangeability of Gigi’s surroundings to seamlessly place new characters into scenes without seriously disrupting our sense of spatial unity. Gradually, and almost before we know it, the film starts to resemble a modern-day fairy tale, generating an expansive set of possibilities through its rambling scope while still grounding us in the textures and feelings of everyday life.
The Adventures of Gigi the Law screens this evening, October 13, at the New York Film Festival. Director Alessandro Comodin will be in attendance for a Q&A.