The International Critic’s Week section of this year’sVenice Film Festival was opened by L’arte della Felicità (The Art of Happiness), by Italian debut-director Alessandro Rak. The film is of a rare breed: an animated film aimed at adults, about identity, nostalgia and memory. It tells the story of Sergio, a taxi-driver from Napoli, who find himself in the middle of an identity crisis. He’s given up on his dream to become a pianist, he’s divorced from his wife and his older brother Alfredo, who’s been a guiding figure all of his life, has left him to become a Buddhist monk in Asia. As a result, Sergio lives in the past; all he has are memories. Neither the present nor the future, seem to interest him.
The film depicts Sergio’s disorientation through a series of long conversations with patrons in his cab, driving through the (usually rainy) Napoli. While one might think that this structure could make the film episodic and incoherent, this is not the case as the different chapters are linked thorough flashbacks and Antonio Fresa and Luigi Scialdone’s beautiful score. The flashbacks and dream sequences are in many ways the most interesting parts of the movie. Using different animation styles (unpleasant memories, such as Alfredo’s departure are drawn with heavy strokes and the characters are unrecognizable, while happy recollections are three dimensional computer animations) give a fascinating insight into Sergio’s mind.
In many ways, L’arte della Felicità reminded me of Richard Linklater's animated films, in particularWaking Life, in style, tone and content. While Waking Life was about dreams rather than memories, they both deal with big philosophical questions through a lot of dialogue and a very creative use of animation. The only problem with the film is that it feels a bit too long (even though it clocks in at minutes as it is), especially in the sequences leading up to the rather smart ending, but it is to be recommended to anyone who enjoys interesting, thought-provoking and philosophical films. Rating: ★★★★