The Eternal City (2008) – By Cary Conley

Jonny comes to "the eternal city," Rome, to stay with the love of his life, whom he met in Paris, only to find that to her, he was just a one-night fling. Stranded in beautiful Rome and with his luggage missing, he has nowhere to go and no one to turn to until a chance encounter with another tenant in the apartment building changes his fortune–and everyone else’s.

Jonny meets Jesse, a fellow from New York who just happens to know a relative of Jonny’s. Taking pity on Jonny, Jesse invites him up to his flat where Jesse’s girlfriend, Angela, is none too thrilled to find a male stranger in her apartment. But soon enough, Angela becomes intrigued by Jonny, who seems to be able to explain Angela’s strange dreams. Along with Angela’s nine-fingered piano teacher, Pablo, the four embark on an adventure to get Jesse’s first feature film made. As things begin to go awry, the friendship between the four characters is soon tested.

Co-writer and co-director Jason Goodman gives a fine understated performance as Jesse, a young man who is driven to single-mindedness to make a film. He wants to make this film so badly that he has become neglectful of his longtime live-in girlfriend Angela and her personal and professional desires. As he explains to Jonny, "We don’t believe in marriage," oblivious to Angela’s real feelings on the subject. It isn’t until near the end of the film that Jesse changes from laid-back to passionate, but by then it’s too late as his dreams become an obsession and he shows his true colors.

For her part, Giulia Steigerwalt plays the lovely and sensitive Angela, a young woman desperate to make a name for herself playing the piano but haunted by both her lover’s seeming ignorance of her needs as well as a series of strange dreams she is having. She is supportive of Jesse as he works to make his own desires come true while simultaneously hoping that he will notice that she too has desires. Steigerwalt is beautiful and beguiling in a role perfectly suited to her.

Jonny (Joe Iacovino) is the polar opposite of Jesse and Angela. A little wild, he has sold the family business to follow his true love to Rome only to get dumped at her doorstep. He first appears at the apartment building, lonely, disheveled, and sick. Jesse and Angela are immediately captivated by this loud, brash, young man whom they hardly know but shortly settles into their little apartment–and their lives– very comfortably. Jonny helps Angela figure out her dreams and he also pays attention to her and compliments her on her piano playing, something Jesse never does. But at the same time, he encourages Jesse to make his film epic, going so far as to help rewrite the screenplay and volunteer to star in the film. Iacovino nails his characterization of Jonny, who lives his life out loud and isn’t afraid to display his emotions.

Then there is Pablo (played by Pablo Gaspari), Angela’s piano instructor. Himself an accomplished player, Pablo is haunted by a car crash that simultaneously ended his family’s generations-old piano construction business while robbing him of the ability to play his beloved instrument. He sees himself as a young man in Angela and works with her daily to help her achieve her goals.

The Eternal City has been described as "Fellini-esque," and I would have to agree with that statement. The film is quirky and gently humorous with characters that are often impulsive and free-wheeling, all traits of Fellini films. Woody Allen also sprang to mind while watching the film. The dream sequences are bizarre and fun and directors Goodman and Arianna De Giorgi have enough faith in themselves to not ruin these unique sequences by falling back on some cheap cinematic trick that announces each dream sequence. The result is that the viewer is left a little off kilter until they figure out that what they saw was one of Angela’s dreams. This gives the film a surreal quality in places that I enjoyed immensely.

Directors Goodman and De Giorgi show great skill as they balance each character’s crisis with the others, especially the budding romance between Jonny and Angela, which happens almost accidentally. Also particularly good are the scenes in which Pablo tells his story of how he became a piano teacher and what he is now doing as he seeks redemption. The film is touching and sensitive with a perfect blend of light humor mixed with a bit of melancholy in each character. The film itself is in crisp, clear black-and-white, occasionally punctuated by color scenes, and has a minimal but wonderful soundtrack. The title song of "Julia" is catchy and enjoyable.

If you are looking for a light-hearted comedy/drama with a little romance thrown in for good measure, you can’t miss with this gem of a film. Recommended.