Waves are the first thing we see in Quiet Chaos, director Antonio Luigi Grimaldi's adaptation of Sandro Veronesi's novel of the same name. But the waves — for all their suggestiveness of High Seriousness — appear in a film that prefers the warmth and charm of lakeside sentimentality to the moral gusto of Oceanic Feeling. And this is precisely how Grimaldi's film often feels: playful, but not too much; earnest, but not too often.
Schmaltz and swollen soulfulness is, however, the operating tone here. On the same afternoon he rescues two women from drowning, Pietro (Nanni Moretti) learns of his wife's death, leaving him a widowed father to a ten year-old girl (Blu Di Martino) whose implied emotional vulnerability he tries to temper by stationing himself outside her school each morning. In the process, father Moretti spends nearly a year watching the same locals, dining at the same restaurant and sitting at the same bench while the seasons change and Paolo Buonvino's score twinkles and drones. A subplot involving the merging of his company with a large American outfit gives the film its sense of ethical finesse (Pietro must decide whether or not to replace his recently ousted best friend), but the scenario plays like a diminutive narrative parenthesis stuck inside a potentially larger human story.
The story, from a script by Laura Paoulucci, Francesco Piccolo and Moretti, becomes less redeemable as a touching chronicle of one man's spiritual healing and more convincing as an arc that runs the course of middle-aged sexual anxieties, beginning once Pietro's willing sister-in-law (Valeria Golino) strips down to her bra in a concerted reminder of their short-lived love affair, and ending with rough living room sex and breast-licking between Moretti and the blonde whose life he saved (Isabella Ferrari). Perhaps the most startling feature of Grimaldi's film is the confidence and ease it has in turning Frank Capra into Adrian Lyne.