You may feel you owe your parents a great deal, but perhaps not as much as the hero of ALBERTO EXPRESS. Arthur Joffe's comedy adventure takes the concept of familial debt quite literally, but it's one that can't fuel this uneven movie.
The film opens with a teenage Alberto meeting with his father (Nino Manfredi), who explains the family tradition of sons repaying fathers, literally, for the costs of raising them. His father then takes out an adding machine and has his son add as he lists the costs of all his meals, clothes,
furniture and assorted childhood expenses, finally arriving at a total of over thirty million lire. He then explains that Alberto cannot have a child without first repaying his debt, and implies grave consequences if he doesn't comply. Alberto, stunned, then leaves home, and we cut to fifteen
years later, in Paris, where he and his French wife are awaiting the arrival of their first child. Alberto, realizing he is now in deep trouble since he hasn't paid back his father, impulsively boards a train to Rome.
Panicked and unsure of his plans, he wanders the train and meets people from his past, including an old school coach and a former flame (Marie Trintignant). After emptying her wallet, Alberto still doesn't have enough cash to pay his debt, and with the aid of a young-though-hardly-innocent boy, he
goes through the entire train while its passengers are asleep, taking jewels, credit cards and whatever valuables he can lay his hands on. Alberto joyously realizes he now has enough loot, and in a half-crazed, illogical stunt, he climbs on top of the moving train to reach the conductor and tell
him to speed up. Of course, the bag containing his loot opens while he's speaking to the conductor, and all the cash, jewels and valuables blow away.
More despondent than ever, Alberto again wanders the train where he enters a strange, darkened car that seems to be the tomb of a mysterious, oraculer-like woman (Jeanne Moreau, in a thankless cameo), who tells him what he's "searching for" is in the last car of the train. He goes there and finds
his grandfather, great-grandfather and other white-haired ancestors poring over old receipts and ledgers, attempting to determine their "debts." While listening to them bicker over who owes what to whom, Alberto realizes that none of his ancestors have fully paid back their fathers, and the
relieved son now arrives in Rome to find his father. Father and son initially clash, but Dad eventually comes to realize the travesty of the tradition.
ALBERTO EXPRESS ostensibly wants to make a statement regarding the debt one owes to parents, but it takes such a long, muddled route getting there that most viewers will lose interest before the film's conclusion. Given its initial premise, much could have been done with Alberto's predicament, but
confining almost all the action to a train, and one populated with sketchy characters at that, doesn't help matters. The film's tone is as noncommittal as Alberto himself: indifferent, confused and not particularly likable, he comes off as a shnook, a terminal screw-up who at times seems quite
unconcerned with his fate. Much of this can be attributed to Sergio Castellitto's vague, half-hearted performance.
If the whole train trip is a dream, or an attempt by Alberto to go back over his life, director and co-screenwriter Joffe has curiously given us little knowlege of it, so when Alberto's former girlfriend says, "I'm glad you robbed me," after discovering he's ripped her off, we're astonished. Is
Alberto dreaming? Is Marie just an incredibly charitable person? Most importantly, we're given no background and no indication of Alberto's relationship with his father, so a story that could have carried some emotional weight (how to repay a person who gave you so much) or comedic possibilities
(how to quickly raise a large amount of cash to pay back someone who's going to "do harm" to you) in the end, has neither. (Profanity, nudity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: You may feel you owe your parents a great deal, but perhaps not as much as the hero of ALBERTO EXPRESS. Arthur Joffe's comedy adventure takes the concept of familial debt quite literally, but it's one that can't fuel this uneven movie. The film opens with… (more)