"The Keys to the House" (aka, "Les Clefs de la Maison" and "Le
Chiavi di Casa")
The film that carved a niche out for this one is "Rain Man." Though it's not, by any means, an imitation, it is about a young person with a handicap and a caretaker. Here, it's 14-year old, mentally impaired Paolo (Andrea Rossi) and the father who abandoned him years before.
Gianni (Kim Rossi Stuart-no relation), wants back into his handicapped son's life years after he turned away from him because of birth defects that he wasn't prepared to cope with. He faces the scary proposition of introducing himself to the boy and turning his biological role into an actual one. His trepidation derives from the fact that communication with Paolo is unpredictable and he doesn't know how the boy will receive or relate to him.
Gianni takes it slow as Paolo's reactions are friendly and accepting... up to a point. Gianni is reeady for the challenge, expressing love and devotion at every turn. He has already mentally re-adopted the boy and soon becomes a father in the fullest sense of the term, dutiful, selfless, protective. For Paolo, however, the trail to trust is strewn with doubt and continuous testing.
Taking Paolo to a Berlin hospital for diagnostic panels he's never had, Gianni meets a slightly older woman, Nicole (Charlotte Rampling) whose life is similarly a matter of attending to the special needs of a mentally handicapped offspring. She's a mirror into the future for Gianni, one which he doesn't shrink from. Once she puts Gianni and Paolo together as father and son, it's an easy matter for her to foresee their future. "Prepare yourself for suffering," she advises.
Truly, the emotions that strains a relationship in which there is total dependency present a herculean challenge in which devotion for the care-giver and trust for the dependent are the prime and basic necessities. Not only are these traced well in this screenplay, but the actors convey it with candor and to the point of pain. The size of a caregiver's sacrifice is expressed by Rampling with bare honesty.
A study of a serious issue more than a simple entertainment, this is not the stuff of commercial drama. It's arthouse fare for anyone whose thirst for substance and meaning is slaked by such films as Lorenzo's Oil and The Sea Inside. Those who find this kind of material weepy are advised to give it a pass.
Director Gianni Amelio (don't get confused by the father character's name) put this super-sensitive material together with co-writers Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli (Inspired by Giuseppe Pontiggia's novel "Born Twice.") It was Italy's official selection for Best Foreign Language Film in the 2004 Academy Awards.