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Venice 2023 review: 'L'ordine del tempo' ('The Order of Time')

The Order of Time
The Order of Time Copyright Venice Film Festival
Copyright Venice Film Festival
By David Mouriquand
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It’s the end of the world as we know it – and I’m rooting for the asteroid.

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“Something really serious is happening.”

Would you want to know if life on Earth was suddenly about to end?

This is the quandary at the heart of L'ordine del tempo (The Order of Time), which sees a group of friends meet up at a picturesque seaside villa to celebrate Elsa's (Claudia Gerini) 50th birthday. But when physicist Enrico (Edoardo Leo), a specialist in calculating temporal distortions, arrives looking particularly flustered, festivities take a shift. Is he out of sorts because his on-off partner Paola (Ksenia Rappoport) has apparently moved on with a new partner, or does he know something they don’t – namely that Asteroid Anaconda is hurtling towards Earth and thereby condemning mankind to go the way of the dinosaurs?

Liberally adapted from the book ‘The Order of Time’ by Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli and brought to the screen by celebrated veteran filmmaker Liliana Cavani (The Night Porter, The Berlin Affair) and co-screenwriter Paolo Costella, this Out of Competition entry is a hot mess.

It takes the book’s research on the theory of relativity, time in physics, and the Bayesian probability theory (described by Rovelli as “the only equation of fundamental physics that knows any difference between past and future"), and morphs it into a trite summer melodrama that actively makes you root for the asteroid to hit so that we don’t have to sit through more whiplash-inducing tonal shifts and puddle-deep musings from a series of characters that feel like carboard cut-outs expressing unbelievable emotions in rapid succession. The best example of this is a background player, the Peruvian housekeeper, who is teary-eyed one minute and talking about flying home to be with her son; the next minute, she’s serving birthday cake as if the world wasn’t ending.

Any inherently promising threads about the merits of dramatizing or minimizing the possibility of impending doom, or how the fear of death can recalibrate your life’s priorities and enhance a fresh perspective on what is truly important, are torpedoed by hackneyed platitudes and some particularly creaky dialogue. It might have worked on stage, as the one-location setting could make for a semi-decent huis-clos, but dies a slow death on the big screen. 

Consider such profound gems as “Why is our story in stages?” / “Because we are looking for intensity” and “Time goes by” / “It’s the same for everyone" - all cobbled together by some clumsy editing (including two galling fade-to-blacks following a dance sequence to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Dance Me to the End of Love’ and TV extracts of Charlie Chaplin cooking his shoe in The Gold Rush) and soundtracked to what sounds like Days of Our Lives outtakes.

Which leads us to the more pressing question: How do you make the threat of the sixth extinction so breathtakingly dull?

Less time would have been wasted had Cavani leaned into farce or rescued proceedings by suddenly cutting to white to indicate the white-hot flash of the end of times. Instead, we get more about life being a journey filled with the certainty of nostalgia and the uncertainty of hope, the unintentionally hilarious last-minute inclusion of a lost son popping up to spice up the already telenovela-level relationships, as well as an impressively topical beat about invasive blue crabs eating all the clams and how they will survive all of us. 

You see, the Italian government has recently encouraged people to eat blue crab, which has been destroying shellfish production in Italy - the world's third largest producer of clams after China and South Korea. Now you know.

Accidental timely considerations aside, fear not – by that point, you’ll have been too busy replaying better asteroid movies in your head or praying for the sweet release of death-by-space-rock-Anaconda to care. That or you’ll be repeatedly humming to yourself the far more profound lyrics by Nicki Minaj: “ My Anaconda don’t, my anaconda don’t, my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun...

Altogether now:

Oh my gosh, look at The Day the Sky Exploded...
Oh my gosh, look at Deep Impact...
Oh my gosh, look at Melancholia...
Oh my gosh, look at Seeking a Friend for the End of the World...

The Order of Time premieres Out of Competition at the Venice Film Festival.

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