By Matthew Roe
The history of Italy is littered with significant people overcoming seemingly impossible challenges, propelled into notability through an unabashed approach to their life and passions. Gianni Agnelli, the Italian industrialist responsible for the integrity and success of FIAT, was a shrewd businessman, a charming playboy, a bigger-than-life international celebrity, and a miserly parent. Nick Hooker follows up his award-winning debut treatise on filmmaker Nora Ephron (Everything Is Copy, 2015) with a technically standard yet heartfelt dive into the mind and mannerisms of the man dubbed “The Prince of Italy”. Agnelli is a participatory docu oozing with narrative proficiency but lacks a significant array of input to substantially prove its subject’s vital importance.
“…many moments of intrigue and contemplation chronicling the times and tribulations of his subject…”
Though initially providing a rampant violent atmosphere at the height of Agnelli’s career during the 1970s communist political turmoil in Italy, the film registers in traditional chronological fashion his life from childhood to his deathbed. Through chummy recollections from numerous family members, professional and personal friends, journalists, and historians, a distinctably relatable narrative is spun about the man and his methods. Super 8 footage, personal photos, newsreels, television interviews, and speeches paint a vivid portrait of shrewd industry man in love with the restless speed and uncertainty of life; at times too much so as he willingly forfeits his role as a father for his love of adventure, parties, and infidelity. Each section of his story is separated into chapters which follow a fairly typical formula of one man’s rise and fall, and the challenges he overcame and succumbed to along the way.
The sheer amount of material utilized by editor Chad Beck (Inside Job, 2010) is absolutely astounding, and each appropriation is cleverly placed and the major arc of the story is well-paced. Though the final third of the runtime in the lead up to Agnelli’s death seems far more compressed and hurried, losing its potency as it climaxes. Paul Cantelon (Letters from Baghdad, 2016) provides an original score that easily conveys the mood of each collective recollection and time period; lacking an overt uniqueness, but remaining effective. Though the original cinematography by Sofian El Fani (Blue Is the Warmest Color, 2013) and Wyatt Garfield is crisp and lush with color and detail, its odd framing and movement put a higher focus on backgrounds than intensifying testimonials, robbing their stories for a misstep in style.
“…manages only to construct a partial image, reading more as a fond memory rather than a hard fact-based compendium.”
Hooker crafts many moments of intrigue and contemplation chronicling the times and tribulations of his subject, but the sum isn’t as effective as its parts. Agnelli’s place among the titans who modernized Italy is not convincingly achieved, as his inner circles of family and acquaintanceships do not include enough independent corroborations without personal bias. Hooker’s determination is earnest and his craft is better honed than his last outing, but he manages only to construct a partial image, reading more as a fond memory rather than a hard fact-based compendium. Though its fun, well-puzzled portraiture keeps his humanity alive with a glossy finish, Agnelli provides only a moderate window into the titular man’s social and cultural significance.