David’s Birthday opens at the opera where culture vulture psychologist Matteo (Massimo Poggio) is lapping up the drama of Wagner’s tragic Tristan and Isolde. His wife Francesca (Maria de Medeiros) and their friends – on and off couple Diego (Alessandro Gassman) and Shary (Michela Cescon) – sit distractedly. It’s a significant scene, because the opera’s tale of repression and forbidden passion lies at the heart of this film.
The story gets underway as the two couples begin their vacation on the Italian Riveria. As they sunbathe, swim and play word games, their individual histories are slowly revealed. Matteo and Francesca have a seemingly happy marriage as well as a young daughter who’s soon packed off to friends. Diego and Shary appear to have overcome their troubled past, and are looking forward to the arrival of their son David.
But it’s when David (Thyago Alves) joins the group that the film switches gear. This presence of this swarthy young Italian man rocks the dynamics between his two parents, while Matteo’s relationship with his wife heads off the rails because he’s unable to take his eyes of the enigmatic young Adonis. When Shary’s troubled brother Leonard (Christo Jovkov) also turns up with secrets of his own, it becomes inevitable that the 12 of them won’t co-habit for long before things explode. Yes I did say 12 – the six adults and the additional six elephants in the room!
Aside from the challenge of reading the speeding subtitles (do Italian’s really speak that fast?), this film – directed by Marco Filiberti – is a powerful portrait of the dangers of self-denial. The theme is so cleverly woven through the action that it seems positively comic when it first reveals itself in the form of Matteo’s lustful glances at the dashing David.
However, once the complete antipasti plate of character repressions has been dished up, there’s no denying the dangers they pose. The movie builds towards the climax of David’s birthday, and with so many potentially destructive secrets waiting in the wings for an opportunity to make their presence felt, it’s only a matter of time before one of them will burst forth to take centre stage. And yes, when it does, it plays out with all the tragic drama of the film’s opening opera performance. David’s Birthday is a passionately-charged journey, and the ending’s truly harrowing.
Released by TLA Releasing on DVD on 13th June.