Bruna, a woman whose beauty salon is on financial life support finds herself the recipient of a crucial secret when one of her customers dies while having her nails done. Bruna volunteers her time at the local prison where one of her customers-turned-friends resides. An infamous jewel thief who was arrested for robbing a handful of priceless jewels among other treasures and has been in bad health for a while, on this fateful day, as the last of her breath escapes her, she tells Bruna her coveted secret: in her house, inside the cushion of a chair is a hidden treasure. At first Bruna is unwilling to accept it, but later on she decides it’s worth at least checking out. Along the way she befriends a tattoo artist called Dino who aids her in her search for the coveted chair which was a part of a set of eight, all of which have been sold in auction.
And so the plot of Carlo Mazzacurati‘s The Chair of Happiness (La Sedia Della Felicita) is established: simple, quirky and with just enough suspense to keep you on your toes, the movie sees our protagonists embarking on a worthy quest throughout the islands of Venice in search of a secure future. At some points, the film mimics those beloved Hollywood heist films, but it’s far less formulaic. However, that’s not necessarily a good thing as it starts out with a certain formula in place and the viewer feels like she knows what to expect, and then all of a sudden our duo is in the mountains of northern Italy hunting down a reclusive artist who is equally quirky and creepy. Halfway through the movie the formula is purposely disintegrated, but the story that replaces it — though undoubtedly original — is a bit of a letdown.
Weirdly enough, the main characters in The Chair of Happiness (La Sedia Della Felicita) are not the most interesting characters in the movie either. It’s the secondary characters — predominantly women — who are the most interesting and the most vibrant. The first we meet is Katia, an employee at the records hall where our duo try to get the names of the people who bought the chairs they’re after. Katia is stern, strict and no-nonsense, but has mildly explicit BDSM wallpaper on her work computer and once Dino shows an interest in her, she opens up and reveals herself to be a dominant, sexually unashamed babe who isn’t afraid to ask for what she wants.
Another similar character is a customer at Bruna’s salon who, when we first meet her, is weeping about being betrayed by her boyfriend. Shortly after, when some repo men comes in to bully Bruna, the customer overhears and barges out revealing herself to be a police officer. She transforms from a weeping, fragile, emotional woman into a hard-as-nails officer of the law and begins taking down names and comes close to kicking ass. The contrast of the policewoman as a traditional, feminine woman and then a stern, intimidating officer is great to watch for its realness because, after all, who says a woman can’t cry and then kick ass within the span of twenty minutes?
Other woman who prove themselves powerful, independent and unafraid to stand up for themselves and their loved ones include Bruna’s sole employee at the salon who literally clings on to the repo men’s legs in an attempt to stop them from taking Bruna’s salon machinery; a waitress at a Chinese restaurant who will have none of Dino’s indecisiveness and ends up making decisions for him; a wheelchair-bound psychic woman who helps them locate one of the chairs, who is seemingly truly gifted with a sixth sense and therefore holds power not only literally but figuratively as well; and the psychic’s caregiver who is devoted to her charge and watches over her as a mother would her child.
Dino is the only man who is likeable in this movie and that’s simply because he doesn’t try to be something he’s not. He’s not concerned with being a “man” or boasting the power society happily gives him while women are expected to earn it (and even then, at a price). He sees Bruna as an equal and as a human being first. In fact, it’s not until the very end that the (inevitable) romantic kiss happens. Throughout the film, Dino’s main goal is to help Bruna find the treasure — wanting to help her more than anything else without expecting anything in return.
The Chair of Happiness (La Sedia Della Felicita) may have a lot of flaws as a movie overall, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth the time. If you want a cute, funny, family-type romp, then definitely check it out; you’re not likely to regret it.
The Chair of Happiness (La Sedia Della Felicita) screens at Colossus Vaughan on June 12 @ 9:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox on June 15 @ 7:00pm, HWT Centre Hamilton on June 17 @ 7:00pm and Cinematheque Montreal on June 19 @ 9:00pm.
Sarah is covering the Italian Contemporary Film Festival which runs in Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City from June 11-19. For more festival coverage, click here!