Review by Daniel Lima
“When you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.” The old adage has served as a comforting mantra for countless people in the throes of misfortune. In The Accident, the narrative feature debut of director Giuseppe Garau, that well-worn wisdom is put to the test, as the kind but foolish soul at its center manages to burrow into greater depths at every opportunity. The result is a bleak yet incredibly funny comedy, buoyed by a strong lead performance and an idiosyncratic visual style.
Giulia Mazarino plays a woman coming apart at the seams. She’s lost her job, her ex-husband has moved on with a new girlfriend and custody of their daughter, and she’s just gotten into a traffic accident. The tow truck driver who moves her wrecked car advises that she should never buy a tow truck herself, as she is not cut out for that line of work. Naturally, she does exactly that, and so begins a spiral that will test her resilience and moral boundaries.
Despite that incredibly harrowing description, this is one of the funniest movies of the past year, in no small part due to Mazarino’s performance. The put-upon person in an unsympathetic, dog-eat-dog capitalist world struggling to make ends meet is an easy character to feel empathetic about, to the point that their hardships are hard to find comic. Mazarino, however, acts with a doe-eyed, good-hearted naivety to the point it’s hard to imagine how she functions in regular society. Constantly taking people at their word and lacking any survival instinct whatsoever, she is easily pushed around and manipulated by everyone she encounters. As ludicrous as it may seem, Mazarino is so totally committed to the role that it’s easy to be fooled into thinking this is a documentary.
The result is twofold. On the one hand, her cartoonish innocence creates an emotional distance between the audience and the character, making it harder to relate personally to her tribulations. After all, many of her troubles come from blindly accepting circumstances that no one else would stand. Yet, seeing how pure and well-meaning she is, you can’t help but root for her in the hope that she may find her footing and assert herself. Even when the film takes a darker turn, forcing her to compromise her own ethics, it’s easy to understand her actions. One might even be inclined to root for, as endearing as she is.
Curiously, The Accident is not only shot on 16mm film but is entirely from the perspective of the passenger’s seat. Most of the film consists of Mazarino driving, stealing away moments to have lunch, talking to people from the car window, and occasionally stepping just outside to have these conversations within the frame. As limiting as this vantage point may seem, it goes a long way in giving the film a candid sense of intimacy, as if the audience are voyeurs in this woman’s private life. And, of course, it sets the film apart from countless other low-budget indies.
Even at sixty-six minutes, however, the film does feel like it’s straining to fill time. A few too many scenes of aimless driving and snack time give the impression of filler, and the moral quandary that Mazzarino finds herself in seems to resolve itself far too cleanly. Perhaps this is the pitfall of the same fettered visual language that makes the movie so gripping, obviating a more involving, complex conclusion. While such a finale would have been welcome, The Accident is still a wonderfully enjoyable comedy, finding laughs within the most desperate part of a gentle life. With any luck, this is the beginning of a prolific career for both its star and director.
The Accident screened at the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival, which ran from January 19-25 in-person in Park City, UT and online from January 22-28.