‘Bad Tales’ Review: Suburban Dysfunction, Italian Style

“Bad Tales” concerns the wretched, sometimes comical, occasionally tender interactions of a group of families in an exurban development on the outskirts of Rome. A narrator introduces the story with a convoluted account of finding a young girl’s diary and continuing to write in it in his own adult male voice.

The ensuing chronicle of lust, envy, dysfunction and tragedy similarly mingles the perspectives of grown-ups and children, to puzzling, sometimes creepy effect. In the haze and languor of an Italian summer, three households come into fuzzy focus, each one dominated by a father with an aggressive haircut. These dads all have middle-school-age sons and daughters whose awkward sexual awakenings are viewed with semi-nostalgic prurience.

The mood of “Bad Tales,” the second feature written and directed by the brothers Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, might remind some viewers of the lesser work of Todd Solondz. The characters are middle-class suburban grotesques, their strivings and self-delusions treated with a mixture of compassion and contempt. At the end, they are punished with a sadism that registers either the depth of their awfulness or the cruelty of the universe.

After catching head lice at a neighbor’s pool, a girl has her hair closely cropped, and later appears in an unflattering wig. Her mother brings her to a play date with an excruciatingly shy boy who is supposed to infect her with measles. A slightly older girl is pregnant. At least two boys are building bombs in their bedrooms. However wayward these kids might be, their parents are worse — moody, vain, selfish, competitive, sexually confused …

The icky situations are acted with deadpan sincerity by the younger members of the cast and with misdirected intensity by their elders. The story is both overwrought and underdeveloped, with potentially important plot details insufficiently explained or left out altogether. All in all, the movie lives up to its title, though perhaps not in the way the filmmakers intended.

Bad Tales
Not rated. In Italian, with subtitles. Watch through virtual cinemas.

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