American films are criticized, often rightly so, for the casual use of violence to get a cheap rise out of the audience. Even worthwhile plots descend to trite chases or fight sequences for the sake of a big action climax. A case in point was the 1990 blockbuster HOME ALONE, whose
saccharine storyline was capped by a slapstick siege that many commentators felt bordered on sadism.
But slouching toward bedlam is by no means exclusive to Hollywood. The Italian production THE STATION starts off as a compact and poignant comedy-drama of human nature, then takes a dismaying 180-degree turn into a skull-cracking thriller to reach its resolution. Call it "Train Station Alone,"
although the plot predates the Macaulay Culkin hit by some time, being based on an Italian play that enjoyed a solid three-year run. THE STATION came to the screen with its stage cast intact, a screenplay by original playwright Umberto Marino and lead actor Sergio Rubini making his feature
Domenico (Rubini) is the birdlike, mother-dominated young night-attendant at a little country train station that's four kilometers from anywhere. One dark and stormy eve his lonely vigil gets an unexpected interruption--a passenger. She's Flavia (Margherita Buy), a wealthy, strikingly beautiful
blonde desperate to catch a connecting train to Rome. The next one won't arrive until early morning, and in the interim Domenico does his awkward best to entertaining this once-in-a-lifetime visitor. There's a melancholy tone to the friendly, often funny interplay between the mismatched couple,
fond of each other but worlds apart socially and otherwise. Then enter the token menace: Flavia's estranged boyfriend Danilo (Ennio Fantastichini), a burly creep who tried to use her rich family name to close a business deal. Flavia walked out on him at a party, and now the drunken thug wants to
drag her back.
When Domenico timidly defends Flavia, Danilo fells him with one blow, and the bittersweet pathos of the earlier scenes rapidly evaporates. Domenico and Flavia barricade themselves inside the station, while Danilo rages murderously outside, tormenting the terrified but resourceful captives. Earlier
Domenico proudly demonstrated how he's timed everything in the station, not only train departures but the way a loose, heavy cabinet door falls open every 20 minutes. Nobody will be surprised at where Danilo's head happens to be at the end of the next interval.
Before it takes a detour into STRAW DOGS territory, THE STATION makes a tender tableau, not too constricted by its limited settings and small cast. Scarecrow-thin, pinched-faced and sad-eyed, Rubini effectively holds center stage as the chatty but hopelessly provincial Domenico, trapped in the
same dull job his father held, engaged to a local girl (off on a pilgrimage to Lourdes) but more enthusiastic about a long-planned vacation to Germany. Margherita Buy is sleek but sweet, although the hackneyed stalk-and-smash stuff barely gives her and Ennio Fantastichini a chance to develop their
characters. At the end of the picture Domenico and Flavia, having shared the ready-mix adventure, regrettably but inevitably go their separate ways; not so Rubini and Buy, a married couple in real life. (Violence, profanity, adult situations.)
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