Gorbaciof - The Cashier Who Liked Gambling (2010) dir. Stefano Incerti
Starring:Toni Servillo, Mi Yang, Hal Yamanaouchi
By Greg Klymkiw
Do you, perchance, salivate over the prospect of watching a beautiful young Asian woman lovingly massage the dirty, stinking gnarly toes of an old Italian tough-guy-sad-sack-loser-gambler-thief who thinks he's Buster Keaton (albeit with a birth mark on his balding forehead)?
Well then, have I got a movie for you!
Gorbaciof - The Cashier Who Liked Gambling is exactly the sort of movie film festival programmers, purported film critics and pseuds-who-patronize-film-festivals-to-pretend-how-much-they-like-art-films just love to bits.
The rest of us can feel free to vomit anytime.
Starring the great actor Toni Servillo (who played the corrupt longtime Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti in the fabulous Il Divo) is the title character in this film. While his world weary, hang-dog mug is fascinating to look at, especially as he wanders about like a cross between Humphrey Bogart and Rondo Hatton, adorned in cheap sport coats and greasy, slick-backed hair, the fascination only lasts so long.
On one hand, the bare bones of the story could have worked. By day, Gorbaciof is a petty clerk in a prison who takes cash deposits from visitors, processes their deposits and places them in a safe he has access to. By night, he's an inveterate gambler who patronizes the back room of an Asian cafe in order to play relatively high stakes poker with the Asian proprietor, a sleazy Italian mob-tied lawyer and many other unsavoury types. He stakes himself by lifting money from the deposits, taking a huge chance that he'll be able to replace the dough next morning - provided he doesn't lose.
That said, the cafe is run by the proprietor's daughter, played by the gorgeous Asian actress Mi Yang. Gorbaciof is smitten with her Oriental charms and when her Dad needs a gambling-related bail-out, he unwisely uses his stake money and winnings to help the unlucky proprietor out. When Gorbacioff begins losing, he gets deeper and deeper in debt with his "borrowings" and soon, he succumbs to securing loans from the sleazy lawyer. He also begins openly courting the daughter and she slowly starts to fall for him, while he lavishes her with gifts and outings.
Needless to say, there's only one way this story is going to go.
Imbued with elements of noir and 70s existential male angst in addition to Servillo's weighty presence plus some truly stunning gritty cinematography, the picture could have been a winner. Alas, several crucial elements render the film dead on arrival.
First of all, the picture goes out of its way to create a central character who is a man of few words. This shouldn't have been a problem, but the manner in which it's executed certainly is. Playing up the silent man stuff so relentlessly, it doesn't take long for it to feel like a major and obtrusive contrivance. Even the fine Servillo seems unable to carry this off since the film strains to keep dialogue from him to such a ridiculous degree that it feels forced.
Secondly, making Yang's character unable to speak Italian is another major flaw. The character quickly descends into the cliche of Asian women being docile and mute.
Thirdly, the contrivance of a love story between two people who cannot communicate verbally is not without merit, but within the context of the ethnic stereotype and the silent trait of the central character, it again feels like a contrivance.
(As a sidenote - contrivance and manipulation are not a bad thing, but they are when you can see them play out so obviously.)
Finally, there's something vaguely offensive of presenting an Asian woman so purportedly lonely and bereft of human contact that she's willing and able to submit to the dubious charms of this misfit Rice King. It could have worked so magnificently if the filmmakers had chosen to present her as someone with some spunk, individuality and the ability to converse, however the whole thing smacks of contrivance again. Oooohhhhh, two people, separated by language, find each other through the universal language of love.
It's sickening - pure and simple.
Even more sickening is when she massages his feet.
I don't, however, think I need to remind you again of that repellent image. It was enough to make me want to douse my eyes with the kind of heavy-duty optical wash used in factories when horrendous accidents occur.
Even now, I am compelled to wish, as Kirk Douglas wished in The Detective Story for the ability to remove my brain and hold it under a tap of water to clean the "dirty pictures" that were put in there.
And even now, the bile rises at the very thought of those gnarly toes being stroked and massaged by those delicate hands.
This is a memory I desperately need to repress.
And so you will also.