A Five Star Life is billed as “the sophisticated story of one woman's quest for personal and professional fulfillment set against some of the most stunning cities and opulent hotels of the world.” And indeed the sleek hotel rooms are luxuriously vast yet they come to represent the sterile quality of our heroine’s life, rather than the opening up of possibilities. Hotel inspector, Irene (Margherita Buy), objectively examines up close every detail of the rooms she inhabits but rarely sees the outside of the hotels she is inspecting and even more rarely interacts with the guests or staff.
This is an Italian single career woman and she looks every bit the part of a high end resort guest. Irene’s perfectly tousled hair is in a child-in-the-sun range of honey tones, her closet of enviable clothes are out of Armani. It’s sheer pleasure to simply watch her sit and drink tea. And in this Italian film, our world traveler heroine speaks not only in her native tongue, but in flawless English, French and German. Behind the camera, slim Director Maria Sole Tognazzi could have played the part herself. She looks like Anouk Aimee stepping out of a Fellini film, complete with tinted glasses.
Irene evaluates the most contemporary, luxury resorts, incognito. Wearing white gloves, she meticulously and comically judges every detail from the concierge's manners to the temperature of the room service and restaurant food with a thermometer, to the thread count of the bed sheets on mountainous king size beds.
Yes, this is an Italian film, but where is the luscious Italian food? Where are the boisterous family relationships?
Family is limited to short bursts of visits with her ditzy sister Silvia (Fabrizia Sacchi) and distracted husband and two lively young nieces. A Fast-service food dinner with them is the liveliest part of the film. The nieces appear more clever than their mom, who loses house keys and her car in equal part, and is searching for a way to put a spark back into her marriage. Being a contemporary urbane film, Silvia is a concert violinist and her husband the conductor.
At home, Irene’s dinners are of the boxed TV-dinner version, stacked in her freezer. She fares better at her comfortable best friend and former lover’s dining room. Andrea (Stefano Accorsi) is an organic produce distributor and a fine cook. But she only gets a test taste of them these days because the dinners he prepares so carefully are to woo girls in pursuit of one-night stands. And they must be worth coming back for because one of the girls almost immediately becomes pregnant and wants the baby.
Thus when Irene begins to feel the all-encompassing loneliness on the road, her fragile support system also begins to crack. Irene and Sylvia stop talking when they fight over the “sexy” look of a simple dress in a boutique.
Two chance meetings in her chic work environment, small on the surface, large in meaning, are the final catalyst of change. One is with an attractive man in a hotel restaurant who is drawn to Irene and the other is with a dynamic feminist lecturer and a potential travel companion. Both situations force Irene to reexamine her life choices, begin to see how other perceive her, and plan her own path to happiness.
How Irene turns the situation about the dress around with a gesture becomes the first step on her way to a resounding change of heart is endearing. She finds a way to be included in the forthcoming baby as part of the family. Along with her own two precocious nieces, Irene has cobbled together a new family.
This is a very personal little film, similar in theme to “Up in the Air” but minus the intense American energy and expected plot twist at the end. More descriptive is the Italian name of A Five Star Life, “Viaggio Sola" or “Traveling Alone.”
I had looked forward to the film because I had the same 5-star hotel and resort privileged stays while on cooking tours in the U.S. and Asia. But my goal was to show off, not critique, the hotel chefs, from my behind-the-scenes vantage point and it never felt like “traveling solo.” So it was satisfying that Irene’s life will not feel like “traveling solo” either in the future.
A FIVE STAR LIFE, has won numerous awards including the David di Donnatello Award (Italy’s Oscar) and four nominations and a win for Best Actress for Margherita Buy. Buy and the engaging Accorsi, and Director Maria Sole Tognazzi are also past winners or nominees of the Davi di Donnatello.
Directed by Maria Sole Tognazzi. Written by Ivan Cotroneo, Francesca Marciano, Maria Sole Tognazzi. Produced by Donatella Botti. Starring Margherita Buy, Fabrizia Sacchi, Stefano Accorsi, Gian Marco Tognazzi, Alessia Barela, Lesley Manville, Carolina Signore, Diletta Gradia. A Music Box Films Release.
Running Time: 85 minutes
Language: Italian and English (with English subtitiles)