The First Day of My Life

The triumph of verbosity.

Jun 16, 2023
Dimitris Passas

Roman director and screenwriter Paolo Genovese became an international star when, in 2016, he directed and co-written the box-office hit Perfect Strangers, a story taking place within the confines of four walls and featuring six characters who assemble for a friendly dinner in the house of one of them and play a, seemingly innocent game: they leave their cell phones on the table, so that all of them can see the messages of the others. The film's internal rhythm and immaculate performances gave birth to more than 15 remakes, with filmmakers from Spain, France, Greece and many other countries adapting the story and investing on Genovese's original idea. The First Day of My Life (original title: Il primo giorno della mia vita) is based on P. Genovese's novel and according to the Italian auteur, it was not originally intended to become a screenplay: "this book was not initially intended to be made into a film. I started writing it due to an urgent desire to tell a story, without having to wait for a budget, production, actors... Writing is difficult because, unlike cinema, you have to express everything using words alone, but it is immediate, free and you can do it anywhere" (CINEUROPA). Furthermore, the initial plan was for the film to be shot in the United States in the English language, however the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic upturned the director's intentions and led to a purely Italian movie, casting some of the most respected native actors and set in the Eternal City of Rome.

The movie revolves around the act of suicide and questions how easy it is for a man who has hit rock bottom to shift his perspective on life and decide to keep on, regardless of any pain that he has experienced. The metaphysical element is looming over the story and is manifested through the character of a man who remains unnamed throughout the runtime, played with a soothing touch by one of the best Italian actors of his generation, the great Toni Servillo. The film aspires to incorporate elements of magical realism into a story dealing with desperation and death and transform a disturbing scenario that begins with four people attempting suicide one rainy night in Rome into a life-affirming story that emits a distinctive aroma of optimism. In an interview that he gave to Vittoria Scarpa, Genovese has stated: "In Il primo giorno della mia vita, there is redemption instead, characters with weaknesses which are easy to identify, who for different reasons think they can’t make it, but they react. It's a happy story, even if it starts with suicide." Servillo's character, credited simply as Uomo (the man), is an angel-like figure who gathers four very different people, coming from divergent backgrounds, in order to offer them a chance to take a glimpse into what the future will look like if they finally decide to die. The angel-like figure has one week at his disposal to convince the four suicidal individuals to see life from another angle.

Sadly, Genovese's intentions eventually fall flat on the ground as his latest picture is blemished with some critical flaws with predictability, verbosity, and an overly sweet mood polluting the film's tone and I couldn't help but feel bored while thinking that The First Day of My Life could easily have been 45 minutes shorter (the full runtime is 120 minutes) without the story losing anything. Those extra minutes are consumed with long-winded conversations between the main characters that fail to add anything substantial to the developments on screen. I understand that Genovese wanted to shoot a dialogue-based treatise on the phenomenon of suicide; however, the screenplay could be a lot more succinct and eloquent even though it was created by the collaboration of four people: Genovese, Isabella Aguilar, Paolo Costella, and Rolando Ravello. The all-star cast, that includes several noteworthy Italian actors, except for Servillo, such as Valerio Mastandrea, Margherita Buy, and Sara Serraiocco, can't redeem the production's obvious flaws and after the finale, I caught myself thinking that this movie was nothing else than a monumental waste of acting talent. The cinematography, capturing the eeriness of nocturnal Rome, is one of the film's few merits, but it is merely not enough to alter my assessment. It feels like The First Day of My Life is a film made exclusively for European audiences, and more specifically for a particular part of it that mistakes pretentiousness for grandeur.


The First Day of My Life
Il primo giorno della mia vita
Paolo Genovese
Written by
Paolo Genovese ... (screenplay) and Isabella Aguilar ... (screenplay) and Paolo Costella ... (screenplay) and Rolando Ravello ... (screenplay) Paolo Genovese ... (novel)
Toni Servillo, Valerio Mastandrea, Margherita Buy, Sara Serraiocco, Vittoria Puccini, Elena Lietti
Production Companies
Lotus Production, Medusa Film
121 min

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