if by chance [casomai] (2003)


director: alessandro d’alatri

stefania rocca, fabio vola, gennaro nunziante

The most shocking thing about Alessandro D’Alatri’s If By Chance is its opening scene, a wedding in a country church with an unusually confrontational priest. It’s not that the priest is so eager to depart from the scripted mass and prod the guests with provocative statements about fidelity and the lifespan of modern marriages, but the clear sense that he’s a good guy, the conscience of the film, and the narrative device that holds it all together.

After years of films that poke fun at the church for its flaws and failings - especially in a Catholic country like Italy - it’s a shock to see the church portrayed so positively, if a bit unconventionally. It’s important to keep this in mind since D’Alatri’s film is a passionate plea for marriage and fidelity, and the obligation of a couple to overcome obstacles, even painful ones, like cheating. In this day and age, it might actually be a radical message.

The couple in question, Stefania (Stefania Rocca) and Tomasso (Fabio Volo), are modern people, with jobs in fashion and advertising and a large group of mutual friends who form a vast, extended family. We see them from their first meeting, through courtship, marriage, parenthood and, ultimately, through to a painful separation, at which point the film doubles back to the church, and the priest, and his insistent question: How do you make a marriage work?

If the message of the film sounds traditional, D’Alatri tells it using as modern a style as possible, with computer graphics and slick, commercial-derived imagery to give some sense of the speed and pressure of Stefania and Tomasso’s lives. It would be easy to deputize some grim cliché of a soulless, materially-obsessed “modern world” as the villain, but D’Alatri shifts his focus onto their friends and family, most of whom have become so internalized the message that marriage is temporary and relationships easily abandoned that they drive the couple apart instead of helping them when things get tough.

D’Alatri and the couple keep returning to a gauzy image of figure skaters to represent a marriage, and while the image is undeniably corny, it’s worth considering that laughing at it is precisely what destroys Stefania and Tomasso’s life. It’s a sobering thought that lingers gnawingly at the end of a film that’s too easy to dismiss as romantic wish fulfillment.