An elderly biochemist, a bossy military widow, her reluctant chaperone and a trio of Celtic fans en route to a Champions League match have very different experiences of the new Europe while travelling on the same express bus to Rome.
The Portmanteau picture was all the rage during the 1960s and, pleasingly, it seems to be returning to fashion. The trio of episodes assembled here are loosely linked by recurring characters, but the look, content and tone of each is very different.
Ermanno Olmi’s melancholic opening rumination has been criticised for its sentimentality. But Carlo Delle Piane’s gentle fascination with conference assistant Valeria Bruni Tedeschi is entirely in keeping with the wistful longing of an ageing man, who is still capable of indulging in a harmless ’what if’ daydream. Moreover, the innocence of his fantasies contrasts tellingly with the imposing presence of the military, conducting passport checks in what’s supposed to be a free continent.
It’s easy to see why Abbas Kiarostami and Ken Loach’s contributions have captured the imagination. Bourgeois snob Silvana De Santis’ boorish behaviour over reserved seats and a distinctive mobile phone is as squirm-inducing as escort Filippo Trojano’s gauche (and admirably improvised) corridor conversation with an infinitely more mature teenage girl from his hometown. But the highlight is undoubtedly Loach’s confrontation between Glaswegians Martin Compston, William Ruane and Gary Maitland and the Albanian kid they believe has stolen one of their train tickets.
Touching, astute and riotously funny, this is a spirited celebration of humanitys similarities and differences.