This Italian hit from 2008 is a difficult film to describe. Calling it an art-house feel-good film is probably the best way to categorise it but such a label really doesn’t do justice to this gently moving and understated film about moving on after tragedy, family and simply being human. Quiet Chaos (Caos calmo) is the perfect title as it embodies the idea of its lead character Pietro Paladini being the calm centre of the storm amid the chaos that is modern life. The film opens with a monumental incident of irony where Pietro’s visit to the beach with his brother is prolonged when they find themselves the only people who are willing and able to save a pair of drowning women. This unthanked for act of unintentional heroism means that Pietro does not get home in time to be with his wife who suddenly dies after collapsing. However instead of raging at the cruelty of his fate, Pietro goes into a strange state of shock, adopting a sad and wise serenity. Becoming more attached to his young daughter than ever Pietro begins to spend his days in the park opposite her primary school waiting for her to finish her school day. Over a number of weeks various neighbouring strangers and worried work colleagues begin to regularly visit Pietro in the park and they increasingly rely on him for advice, sympathy and understanding.
The Italian actor Nanni Moretti (The Son’s Room), who also co-wrote the script, plays Pietro with a sad, kind and friendly sensibility that is impossible to dislike. Pietro does very little in terms of actively helping people but his soft disposition and ability to listen clearly has a major impact on the lives of the people surrounding him. Pietro is almost a low-key, male equivalent of Amelie and while Quiet Chaos doesn’t replicate Amelie’s romantic whimsy it does share its theme about taking time to notice the small parts of everyday life that bring joy.
Aside from a very graphic sex scene, which feels completely out of place in the film, Quiet Chaos maintains a gentle pace and an unsentimental approach. It never revels in misery nor does it become overly mawkish. It contains a very diverse and interesting modern pop soundtrack and a random yet pleasing cameo appearance from one of the world’s most prestigious directors. However, the key to what makes Quiet Chaos such an appealing film is the beautifully developed relationship between Pietro and his daughter. Quiet Chaos completely avoids any contrived conflicts, dramas or angst and simply allows Pietro to be portrayed as a flawed but fundamentally good man who genuinely loves his daughter unconditionally. Pietro is possibly cinema’s greatest father role model since Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.