Sunday, November 30, 2014

I Can Quit Whenever I Want (orig. Smetto Quando Voglio) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be R) (6.5/10) (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* (A.M. Abate) review* (P. Feast) review* (D. Zonta) review*
I Can Quit Whenever I Want (orig. Smetto Quando Voglio) [2014]  [IMDb] []* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Sidney Sabilla [IMDb] []* along with Valerio Attanasio [IMDb] []* and Andrea Garello [IMDb] []*) is a fun Italian Ocean's 11 [2001] [IMDb]Breaking Bad [2008-2013] [IMDb] even Revenge of the Nerds [1984] [IMDb] / Horrible Bosses [2011]-like comedy that played recently as part of the 1st Chicago Italian Film Festival organized by the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago and held at the Music Box Theater here on the North Side.  The film won the 2014 Italian Golden Globe for Best Comedy and was nominated for twelve 2014 David di Donatello Awards (the closest Italian equivalent to the Oscars) [IMDb] [Official Site] [en.wikip] [it.wikip]*

And the film is about something that a lot of American young people of the current "occupy" (?) generation could understand: Just because one gets a college degree does not necessarily mean that one will get a good / high-paying job.

So this is a film about A LOT of quite talented, well-educated, late 20-something to mid-30-something Italians who despite said education and perhaps even some brilliance are not exactly "living the dream," and then the temptation to use that talent / education "to get" what one may feel one "deserves" through more nefarious means.

To those who may be (initially) "disoriented" by seeing the frustrations of SO MANY WELL EDUCATED ITALIANS being portrayed in this film, remember that Italy would not have possibly become the birthplace of the European Renaissance if it was inhabited exclusively (or even largely) by the "Luca Brasi" types of the Godfather [1972].   Instead, Italy has been (also) the land of Dante, DaVinci, Michelangelo, Verdi and Puccini, and in more recent times of everyone from Fermi to Marconi to Fellini to Versace and about as "cultured" a land as they come.  The "dangerous" and certainly _frustrating_ question that the film asks is: Why does it seem that "being educated" / "being cultured" or even "being _buona gente_ (good people)" is "not enough"?

And so ... this film has Pietro Zinni (played wonderfully by Edoardo Leo [IMDb] []*) a fictionalized, talented, even possibly "brilliant" and certainly well-liked neurobiology professor at a random (Catholic) university somewhere in Italy telling us "his story" of his slide into addiction / crime.  What went wrong?

Well, brilliant or not, well-liked by his students as a lecturer or not, he finds himself reduced to "1/2 time" due to budget cuts at his University.   His Department Head is heard mostly yelling over the phone at unseen penny pinching bureaucrats bent on apparently driving the University into the ground or at least selling its soul.  (Apparently, the draconian cuts resulting in Dr. Zinni's tenure being reduced to "half time" could have been avoided if the Department Head had consented to accepting a grant do some (unspecified) kind of research.   But we hear him yelling into the phone: "We are a Catholic University.  We have Values (!) and we are simply NOT going to do that kind of (unspecified) research."  Va bene ... call finished, and apparently feeling good about himself that he "saved" his department from being "prostituted" (in some unspecified way), he heads off to Pietro's office to tell him ... that he has to cut his (and the other Professors') time / salar(ies) in half.  Ah the joys of integrity and "sticking to one's guns ..." even in the face of monstrous costs (to be suffered BY OTHERS ;-) 

So ... it's left to Pietro to go home to tell his wife, Giulia (played by Valeria Solarino [IMDb] []*), who actually is the only one of the late-20-somethings / 30-somethings in this film with a job to be proud of (as a drug rehab counselor...), that what they've expected / feared for years was finally happening, that his job at the University, mind you as a researcher with a team of grad students, beloved as a teacher, was finally becoming not worth holding-onto.   "Great.  So what now?  And when are we _ever_ going to be secure enough to start a family?" is his wife's response.

Depressed, Pietro puts on his goofy-looking red cyclist helmet and reflector jacket to take a ride on his bike.  He stops at a gas station where he talks to two of his former classmates, Mattia (played by Valerio Aprea [IMDb] []*) and Giorgio (played by Lorenzo Lavia [IMDb] []*), "Latinists" they once were (now pumping gas for a living) to share with them his news.  They're sympathetic and even a bit surprised.  They knew that their field was kinda hopeless when it comes to getting a job (to be a "Latinist" in Italy would seem to be like being a "PolySci major" in my time in the States), but EVEN NEUROBIOLOGY (!)

Well, while at the gas station, goofy red cyclist helmet on, bike leaned against his hip, talking to his long-out-of-luck former classmates, Pietro spots ONE OF HIS CURRENT STUDENTS Maurizio (played with magnificent happy cluelessness by Guglielmo Poggi [IMDb] []*), drive-up in a bright SHINY AND NEW S.U.V. ..

Wasn't Maurizio ON SCHOLARSHIP?  What the heck was he doing, all dressed-up in trendy threads driving a bright, shiny and new S.U.V.?  So ... after Maurizio fills-up (the GIANT S.U.V. that he was driving) and drives away, Pietro decides to follow him, goofy red helmet and reflector jacket on, with his bike.

Maurizio arrives at some trendy discotheque, Pietro, still with his goofy red helmet and reflector jacket on, enters to find him.  He does.  "Ciao Professore!" Maurizio calls out, "What are you doing here?"  "I could ask you the same?"  "I'm here with my people."  "How CAN they be 'your people'?  You're supposed to be an orphan, on scholarship."  "But I am, professore!"  "So how the heck can you afford to be here?"  And here the story really begins ...

Maurizio has found that he could pay his "non-scholarship" expenses (and have a WHOLE LOT MORE MONEY BESIDES) by ...selling ... "smart drugs."  That is, drugs that are _technically not illegal_ (not on a list of OFFICIALLY ILLEGAL DRUGS in Italy, but ever so similar, both in chemical structure, and, more to the point, in effect).  "But Professore, I'm NOT DOING ANYTHING ILLEGAL ..." Maurizio assures Pietro.

And that then gets Pietro thinking.  If this underachieving, always-sleeping-in-his-class (now he knows why) Maurizio can do this, why can't he and PERHAPS THE WHOLE GROUP OF HIS UNEMPLOYED / UNDEREMPLOYED 30-40-something FRIENDS do the same?  And mind you, he's NOT going to do this to do something "illegal" but to simply give him and his friends a chance to "finally" live the dignified life that he/they all "deserve."  (This is where the title of the film, "I can quit when I want..." first comes into play ;-)

So Pietro goes home, spends the night googling the legal ins-and-outs of making "smart drugs," and then uses the computer simulation equipment of his department (his own field after all) to design "a perfect smart drug molecule."  And then ... he sets out to pick-out among his vast legion of underemployed and certainly UNDER-UTILIZED but well educated friends to put together "A BANDA" (a "gang") to manufacture this smart molecule and put it on the market.  Specifically he recruits:

Alberto (played by Stefano Fresi [IMDb] []*) a organic chemist, synthetics wiz, who's taken a job as a chef at a local "Benihana" style restaurant where he spends most of his time arguing with his Asian sous chefs who don't speak a word of Italian.  He'll be the one to synthesize the drug.

Andrea (played by Pietro Sermonti [IMDb] []*) a brilliant PhD cultural anthropologist, speaking 30 languages, but helping out at his dad's junk yard unable to find a job in his field, would be responsible for "Marketing."

Bartolomeo (played magnificently by Libero De Rienzo [IMDb] []*) an unemployed mathematician, introduced to us arguing with a group of poker players in tent somewhere in the back of a carvival telling them "Look guys, I'm a statistician and I can tell you that the odds that you'd come up with this hand THREE times in a row is astronomically low, SO YOU MUST BE CHEATING..." (to which the card-dealer answers "AND ..." ;-) is signed-on by Pietro to be the group's "finance man."

Arturo (played by Paolo Calabresi [IMDb] []*) an archeologist with actually a job in his field (but that means that he goes around the city following a construction crew begging them to "please, please, please not BREAK anything valuable" that they might run-into during their excavations) is initially "hired" apparently because Pietro "feels sorry for him."  Later, however, he comes to the assistance of the group, when things start to "get hot."  He brings them a crate of NAPOLEONIC ERA MUSKETS AND SIDEARMS ;-) that he pilfered "from storage" at a local museum telling them: "Look guys, they may be old (ya think? ;-), BUT THEY ARE PERFECTLY FUNCTIONAL" :-) Besides where would a group, still-thinking-of-themselves as, "good" people going to QUICKLY get access to LEGALLY ACQUIRABLE FIREARMS in A PLACE LIKE ITALY (or Europe in general)? ;-)

Together, they form "A Gang" ... manufacture Pietro's "designer drug" and then going back to the club where Pietro found his student Maurizio, and start selling said drug, hand-over-fist.  It's a HUGE, HUGE SUCCESS.

Now INITIALLY THEY ALL SAY TO THEMSELVES, "We're JUST DOING THIS to: (1) pay off old debts, (2) finally buy the house/car/whatever that we've always wanted, (3) finally, stand with head high, knowing that we accomplished something ..." BUT ... as the TECHNICALLY NOT ILLEGALLY MADE MONEY KEEPS ROLLING IN ... how do you say no to "continuing on"?

BESIDES, they're meeting ALL KINDS OF "INTERESTING PEOPLE."  The "Latinists", soon living like CALIGULA-LIKE BOND VILLAINS with a VILLA ON A HILL with a POOL overlooking, is it Rome? is it Naples? is it Salerno? whatever ... find that their lifestyle is now attracting all kinds of BEAUTIFUL "ESCORTS" who TO THEIR SURPRISE SEEM TO _ALL_ BE FORMER "LIT. MAJORS" FROM RUSSIA, the UKRAINE and other former Eastern Bloc countries ;-).  They HONESTLY have some of the most "intellectually stimulating" ;-) discussions that they've ever had with these BEAUTIFUL BIKINI CLAD former PhDs ;-) ;-)

And Alberto, who was frustrated previously with working with a bunch of Asian chefs that he didn't understand, now has a drop-dead gorgeous former humanities major from Russia as a girlfriend, who he doesn't understand either, but now does not seem to mind ...

YET ... as "business" gets ever BETTER and BETTER problems set in: Pietro's wife Giulia (remember the drug counselor) starts getting people at her clinic talking about this "wonder drug" that "makes you so happy that you just want to sit, smiling, forever, not wanting to do anything anymore." And more to the point, "The Mob" gets "interested."

The coup de grace comes when Pietro, forced to deal with a notorious drug trafficker going by the name Er Murena (played by Neri Marcorè [IMDb] []*), finds to his horror that Er Murena had "his story" too, and indeed considered Pietro to be a "kindred spirit."

And so ... how does a film like this end?  Guess ;-)

Still, I have to say that this is a very fun, yet intelligent story that does a number of things very very well: (1) It presents WITH A SMILE a real problem, that there are all kinds of bright, well educated people out there who are not able to use their educations in a useful / dignified way, (2) it also shows, AGAIN WITH A SMILE, the "danger of falling into cynicism/despair" ... It shows very clearly that even drug dealers and high-priced prostitutes could justify their choices with "good hard luck stories" ... Yet, no matter how "bad" things are, that still doesn't justify "turning to the Dark Side."

Anyway, this film was a blast ... and yet I do think that nobody who sees the film all the way through would say "this is the way to go."  Good job!

ADDENDA (how to find / play this film in the U.S.A.):

This film albeit in European PAL format is available with English subtitles for a reasonable price through

Further, DVD players capable of playing DVDs from various regions (North America, Europe, etc) are no longer particularly expensive (costing perhaps $10 more than a one region DVD player).

Finally, a simple program called DVDFab Passkey Lite (downloadable FOR FREE from allows one to play DVDs from all regions on one's computer's DVD-Rom drive. 

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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