(28/10/08) – Some films are design to elicit emotional responses from the audience, while others try to tap into the viewer’s intellectual resources. Antonello Grimaldi’s Caos Calmo (Quiet Chaos) aims at feelings but without ignoring intelligence, and achieves mixed, mostly successful results. Written and starred by Italian cinema maverick Nanni Moretti, Caos Calmo is a tender, meticulously constructed cinematic study of grief and spiritual renaissance. Death in the family triggers the process with which the film is concerned, but in the hands of Grimaldi and Moretti the film drills much deeper than its 1970s made-for-TV plot outline seems to promise.

Moretti is no stranger to family-centred themes. In a previous film called The Son’s Room (2002), he showed the atomisation of a family when the son dies by drowning. In Caos Calmo, death takes on a more positive, Zen-like connotation. It becomes the valve whereby a father-daughter relationship blossoms.

Moretti plays Pietro Paladini, a high-flying businessman. One day he arrives home from the beach, where he’d saved a drowning woman, to find out his wife had just died. In order to inaugurate his new life as a widower and single parent, he decides to spend his days in the square outside his 10-year-old daughter Claudia’s school, waiting for her to leave. School staff and work colleagues are initially baffled at Pietro’s eccentric gesture but soon get used to the suit loitering on the square. Colleagues start coming to him for meetings while Pietro flirts with a gorgeous woman who uses the square to walk her dog. He also plays a little hooting game with a boy who suffers from Down Syndrome.

The square becomes a kind of metaphorical womb from which Pietro will be delivered into his new life once the suppressed grief is cathartically expelled from his soul. Some scenes and the music get very saccharine at points. But the film is redeemed by its elegance, solid visual architecture and a smart, web-like narrative. The editing is as smooth as satin and often delivers some surprisingly manoeuvres. The cinematography is lush without being ostentatious and there are many details to be savoured by an attentive eye. Moretti, who appears in every take as a kind of symbol of modern man, delivers a great performance.

Caos Calmo could have done with some trimming – it runs for far too long. The businessman as an emblem of modern spiritual void is an overused cliché, although there is a surprise cameo by a very famous film director at the end who, in real life, is the very antithesis of the yuppie. Caos Calmo is a kind of therapy film, perhaps the best that cinema can offer at this point in its history; no greatness, just goodness, by virtue of wiring mind and heart together.

Caos Calmo is currently showing in the UK.