The Order of Time [L’ordine del tempo] — Italian Film Festival 2023

Review by Michele E. Hawkins.

Every year a group of friends meets to celebrate a birthday.  This year it is Elsa’s (Claudia Gerini) fiftieth.  Most of the friends are already at the beautiful seaside villa where the celebrations are under way.

When another of their number, theoretical physicist Enrico (Edoardo Leo), is eventually persuaded to come by Elsa’s husband, Pietro (Alessandro Gassmann), he brings with him devastating confirmation of rumours that an asteroid is hurtling toward Earth and may strike, creating a cataclysmic event similar to that which ended the reign of the dinosaurs.

Bit by bit, the truth of what may be in store emerges, leading to a sequence of revelations and resolutions as those facing the possible end of their lives decide that it’s time to bare their souls.

The possible-end-of-the-world scenario isn’t a new device for bringing well-hidden truths to light, and the revelations are less earth-shattering than in many similar stories.  So The Order of Time might attract little interest if not for its impressive cast, many of whom will be familiar to those who enjoy Italian cinema.  With such a cast — which also includes Richard Sammel, Valentina Cervi, and Kseniya Rappoport — you can count on great screen chemistry, which The Order of Time certainly delivers.

Naturally, the sharing of secrets at such a time raises a couple of questions.  The obvious one is what we ourselves would do in such a situation.  Would we reveal all in those final moments so that those around us finally know what truly resides in our hearts, no matter how hurtful that would be to others?  Would we decide that any truths that carry even the slightest risk of hurt or harm to others should remain secret?  Though we would have only a few hours left to live, so too would those in receipt of our confessions.  And what purpose do such confessions serve other than to make ourselves feel better for having gotten them off our chests?  What is the morally right thing to do?  What is the kindest and most decent thing to do?

Speaking of what is decent, a remarkable aspect of this film — presumably a directorial decision, but one difficult to comprehend — is the entire group’s treatment of Elsa and Pietro’s maid, Isabel (Mariana Tamayo), who has not seen her seven-year-old son in six years.  Rather than include her as another person facing what may be the end, they continue to treat her as a servant, barely extending to her the consideration that they extend to one another.  What kind of person fails to provide all comfort possible to someone who fears dying without ever seeing her child again?

Bearing such questions in mind, The Order of Time is worth a look for the natural interactions that occur between friends — in friendships old enough and comfortable enough to let them read one another perfectly — as well as for the variety of ways in which they choose to face the end and to reconcile themselves to the future that the crisis leads them into.

Screening at Palace cinemas.

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