Anyone who has ever had a parent surely knows that nobody can quite screw up your life as well as they can. It’s bound to happen just about anywhere in the world — and our brothers and sisters in Italy are certainly not exempt from that sort of embarrassment. Case in point: the 2010 Italian dramedy, La Prima Cosa Bella, better known in the English tongue as The First Beautiful Thing. This sometimes lighthearted/frequently serious yarn from Paolo Virzì, whom many consider a traditional Italian comedy filmmaker, follows the oft-heartbreaking plights of Michelucci clan: Bruno, Valeria, and their mother, Anna.
Back in ’71, Anna (the gorgeous Micaela Ramazzotti) was crowned the Most Beautiful Mother during an annual summer event at Livorno — an event that prompted the unjustified jealousy of Anna’s husband, Mario (Sergio Albelli), whose resentment soon turns to violence, causing the young woman to pack up their two children and take off. From there, we jump to modern times (circa 2008), where we find a forty-something-ish Bruno (Valerio Mastandrea) working as a fulltime school teacher in Milan with a part-time drug and alcohol problem. And his reasons for such are evident: he’s an extremely unhappy individual.
Most of his despondency with the world appears to hail from his family, particularly his mother — whose honest intentions over the years have lead to one more brick in his mental wall (cue the Floyd, man!). Despite his best efforts to avoid both her and his sister, the grown-up Valeria (Giulia Burgalassi, another beauty) catches up with him at work, promptly dragging him back to Livorno to help her take care of their now-dying mother (Stefania Sandrelli). It is there, as he unwittingly lends his assistance to the woman that caused him so many scars of discomfiture that he begins to find his way in life.
At its core, The First Beautiful Thing is a charming, somewhat heavy-handed film — particularly if you have ever experienced the loss of a parental figure. Virzì delivers his film’s message in a most assuredly valid way, though his non-linear method of storytelling jumps back and forth from the ’70s and ’80s to the present day so much, it begins to get downright annoying at times. Nevertheless, this drama is a well-made one, and it is easy to see why this one was submitted to the 83rd Academy Awards (it didn’t win, just in case you don’t remember that far back, either — although it was a critic favorite and won several other awards around the globe).
As to why we’re getting it on home video now two years later is beyond me, but the folks at Palisades Tartan Films have given us a fine-looking Standard Definition (in Italian with nice big removable English subtitles) with only a trailer as an extra. The lack of any other special features is a bit of a bummer, but I guess these beautiful things have to end somewhere, right?