Writers: Don't be Afraid of Your Plot!

I was recently reminded how often a story doesn't go far enough, and as a result, it simply fails. 

The thought came to me as I watched a film last night on Netflix, Viaggio Sola (I Travel Alone or A Five Star Life), the work of writer/director Maria Sole Tognazzi (a rare woman director!) with a couple of friend writers (Francesca Marciano e Ivan Cotroneo) - all in their forties and unmarried.

The film, done on a tiny budget and released in 2013, met with restrained praise abroad (here and here) and somewhat warmer praise at home, in Italy (here and here) . And it ended with a 6.3 rating on IMDB. Nothing earth-shaking but respectable.

Why was this film (and story) not a blockbuster?

It has a great premise: it's about a woman who works as an inspector, verifying the quality of five star hotels across the world - the film starts with the Crillon in Paris. She has chosen a life of freedom and luxury over marriage and family.

Big themes.

And they transcend gender: one could easily imagine a man doing her job. Would a man in the same circumstances - a job that requires high levels of business traveling - handle better his personal life? Maybe so, but this is a question Ms. Tognazzi doesn't address, her focus is on the woman.

And the film has impeccable photography and actors. If you haven't seen the film, here's the trailer, it gives a fair idea of the "tone" of the film:

The woman, Irene (played beautifully by Margherita Buy who won a David di Donatello award for it) is a little mature, even fanée and predictably very solitary, due to the nature of her work that constantly takes her away from her life partner (who, just as predictably, has an affair with another, more available woman - she doesn't travel - who eventually is expecting his child).

Irene accepts that the price of her life style is not having children but it grates on her; that glossy five star hotel life feels frozen, alienating - all the more so because in her job as an inspector she has to constantly size it up rather than enjoy it.

The film was streaming faultlessly, building to a climax when Irene meets Kate, a sister soul, as they both lounge lazily around in the luxury spa of a 5 star hotel in Berlin. Kate, equally fanée is a bitingly bright English anthropologist and amateur philosopher who suggests they leave behind the luxury world of their hotel and spend the evening together in a loud, raucous Turkish restaurant that she promises her will be full of real life - not the "deceit" of all this luxury.

So there you are, expecting fireworks at the Turkish restaurant, maybe a Turkish macho type will disrupt the evening, maybe the two women will end up in bed, maybe not (too soon? too cliché, more twists needed?).

But the next scene is a total surprise: Irene is not with her new friend Kate dining on exotic Turkish food; she's still in her luxury hotel, and she is apparently having her usual lonely breakfast among the crystal and porcelain, the chandeliers and the white linen.

What happened to Kate? Irene soon finds out she's dead, maybe from a heart attack, in any case it's unexpected. And that throws Irene in a spin, she starts questioning her life, she panics. The end (no spoilers given here) is excellent, with some humorous touches (again, no spoilers). But the film doesn't quite make it, it doesn't take on that added dimension needed for a blockbuster.

I'm totally convinced that if that scene at the Turkish restaurant - a scene we had been led to expect - had been played out, this film would be a classic today. A low-class, warm and human scene with perhaps "osé" sexual overtones would have carried the film onto another level, providing a much needed contrast to the frozen perfection of high-class luxury. Kate could still die her unexpected death and the film end the way it did, but it would have happened after that Turkish scene - and with the added bonus that for us, as viewers, we would have come to know Kate better and would have emotionally felt her death. As it is now, we don't really care that she died.

In other words, fellow writers, don't ever be afraid of carrying your ideas onto their logical end!