What in the world ails Italian writer/actor/director Nanni Moretti, who made the wonderfully spry and funny Dear Diary (1993), then took a wrong turn with the tear-jerking The Son's Room (2001) and other trifles? The answer—that Moretti chose self-importance over the wry comedy he's good at—may lie in the few laughs poking out of this otherwise vacuous and desultory drama. Moretti wrote Quiet Chaos, which is directed by Antonello Grimaldi from a novel by Sandro Veronesi, and as Pietro, a suddenly widowed global business hot-shot trying to take stock of his grief-sodden life, turns in the same irritable, desiccated performance he gave in The Son's Room. Floored by his wife's sudden death while he was busy saving a drowning woman, Pietro parks himself on a bench outside his daughter's school and slowly defrosts by getting marginally involved with the street life around him. To goose the banal tedium of this constipated scenario, Grimaldi serves up tasteless side dishes of workplace chicanery, unpleasant sex, and a few baffling, but not unwelcome, bars of Rufus Wainwright's "Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk." Not even the momentary participation extraordinaire of a vertically challenged famous filmmaker self-exiled from the United States can save this phony pseudo-drama from its final collapse into a heap of inconsequence and male vanity.
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