KEYS TO THE HOUSE (Le Chiavi di Casa)
Directed by Gianni Amelio (2004)
"When we come to the last moment of this lifetime and we look back across it, the only thing that's going to matter is 'What is the quality of our love?" - Richard Bach
Raising children under normal circumstances requires patience, consistency, and lots of love. Raising a child with special needs requires even more of those attributes plus an infinite capacity to endure the pain of seeing your child suffer. Winner of the Best Picture Award at the 2004 Venice Film Festival, Keys to the House explores the path of a young father who abandoned his disabled son fifteen years ago and now seeks to redeem their relationship without fully comprehending what is expected of him. Loosely based on Giuseppe Pontiggia's 2000 novel Born Twice, Keys to the House is the latest film by Italian director Gianni Amelio (L'America, Stolen Children) who is known for his deeply humane portraits of conflicting relationships between generations.
Gianni (Kim Rossi Stuart), an appliance worker in his mid-thirties, lives with his wife and young son in Milan, Italy. Fifteen years ago, he fathered a handicapped boy named Paolo (Andrea Rossi) with a teenage girlfriend who died during childbirth. At the request of the boy's uncle (Pierfrancesco Favino) who raised Paolo, Gianni meets his son for the first time en route to a Berlin hospital where the boy is scheduled to undergo a new round of testing at a hospital for handicapped children. Paolo, now a teenager, has physical and mental challenges resulting from childbirth trauma and walks with the aid of a cane. The father-son reunion is fraught with difficulties and many awkward moments. In spite of his difficulties, Paolo is bright, fun loving, and full of charm but has mood swings and erratic mental patterns. Gianni is hesitant at first, uncertain how to react to his unpredictable behavior and stumbles when trying to help him dress or assist him in going to the bathroom.
Paolo, though trusting, views Gianni with some embarrassment and asks him to leave during some invasive hospital testing. At the hospital, Gianni meets another parent (Charlotte Rampling as Nicole) whose daughter Nadine (Alla Faerovich) is severely handicapped with Cerebral Palsy. Her empathy and wisdom help him come to terms with the guilt he feels for having abandoned his son and increases his awareness of the difficulties involved in raising a handicapped child. When the hospital therapists push Paolo to the point of exhaustion with their exacting regimen, Gianni instinctively removes him and takes him on a road trip to Norway in hopes of meeting a young girl Paolo knows only through an exchange of photos. On the journey back, Gianni comes face to face with the true requirements of his commitment to Paolo and the result is deeply moving.
Keys to the House is an involving drama about the difficulties involved in taking responsibility for past mistakes and developing the inner strength to cope with the results. The acting is uniformly outstanding, especially that of Andrea Rossi, a young Italian actor with Muscular Dystrophy, who brings Paolo fully to life. Though some elements of the plot are puzzling, Keys to the House is not about plot but about feelings and relationships. It is a courageous film that sparkles with authenticity and tenderness. It avoids easy consolations and trite solutions, challenging us to confront our limitations, particularly our inability to always be the person our children need us to be. While Keys to the House may not be Amelio's best film, it is his most emotionally compelling and fully establishes him as being in the very front rank of contemporary directors.