Margherita Buy injects subtle charisma into every action, despite the film not being as emotionally absorbing as it could.
A Five Star Life
I don’t subscribe to the notion that a film must have a destination – that it must arrive at a conclusion – but I do believe that some form of progress is necessary. Leaving a film with its characters in the same position as they were at the beginning is only interesting if either their or our perspective has changed. A Five Star Life begins with the promise of such progression, but never fulfils this promise, instead settling for an ambiguous ending that seems to lack the courage to make a decision almost as much as its protagonist.
There’s admittedly something intriguing involved in taking a life that would traditionally be seen as desirable and exposing its imperfections – after all, this concept is essentially what so much of celebrity culture revolves around. Irene (Margherita Buy) may not be a celebrity, but she certainly has an enviable life, with a job that requires her to travel the world and stay in the most prestigious five star hotels as a mystery guest, evaluating whether these hotels truly live up to their reputations. The catch to living in such luxury, however, is that it prevents her from being able to have any true connections with people. She manages to occasionally see her sister’s family, and her closest friend is ex-lover Andrea (Stefano Accorsi), but a real relationship or family of her own is out of the question.
Irene is accustomed to this life, happy to continue through the world with no real attachments, but we soon begin to realise that her attachment is to this very instability – she needs to be perpetually moving from one place to another, and working as a tourist allows her to avoid any need for commitment. This realization hits us long before it does Irene, who apparently doesn’t think to examine her life too closely until she meets Kate Sherman (Lesley Manville), a feminist whose insights into the male gaze and its repercussions on women in pornography have led to her speaking on the subject in Berlin. Kate’s insights don’t stop there, however, and she is quick to perceive that the luxury that Irene so desperately clings to is not real life, but simply a façade. Indeed, Kate is undoubtedly the most interesting character in the film, and yet her role is disappointingly small, leaving us a little bereft at her departure, purely for worry little else will hold our attention.
What largely factors into our apathy throughout A Five Star Life (whose Italian title “Viaggio Sola” means “I travel alone”) is the film is so determined to avoid melodrama, lightly brushing over scenes that needed much more weight to get access to our emotions, that it comes across as bland. Paired with a gentle pastel filter that moderates the image regardless of which country Irene is in, the film ends up feeling a touch monotonous in not only its plot but also its aesthetic. Nevertheless, this very determination does also mean that director Maria Sole Tognazzi thoroughly avoids the realm of clichés, allowing the humanity behind each of her characters to be the only driving force. The only problem, therefore, is when the characters aren’t as much a force as they are furniture, as is the case with Andrea, whose existence in Irene’s life provides amusement and a slight change of pace, but does little to actually influence her, despite a regrettable night that occurs between them.
Arguably one of the most intelligent aspects of the film is Irene’s off-screen narration, which is surprising given that such narration often indicates a lack of intelligence in the script. Rather, her well-timed questions that begin by easing us into the inner workings of her job soon become much more influential, truly giving us pause for thought and helping us understand her personality whilst maintaining her ignorance toward her own character. This is undeniably assisted by a wonderful performance from Margherita Buy, who manages to inject a subtle charisma into every action, ultimately making it a shame that the plot of A Five Star Life does not allow us to be as emotionally absorbed as we would like.
Plays at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West L.A., Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, and Laemmle’s Town Center 5 in Encino