‘Bad Tales’ Review: Suburban Dysfunction, Italian Style

“Bad Tales” issues the wretched, generally comical, sometimes tender interactions of a gaggle of households in an exurban improvement on the outskirts of Rome. A narrator introduces the story with a convoluted account of discovering a younger lady’s diary and persevering with to jot down in it in his personal grownup male voice.

The ensuing chronicle of lust, envy, dysfunction and tragedy equally mingles the views of grown-ups and kids, to puzzling, generally creepy impact. In the haze and languor of an Italian summer time, three households come into fuzzy focus, each dominated by a father with an aggressive haircut. These dads all have middle-school-age little children whose awkward sexual awakenings are considered with semi-nostalgic prurience.

The temper of “Bad Tales,” the second characteristic written and directed by the brothers Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, may remind some viewers of the lesser work of Todd Solondz. The characters are middle-class suburban grotesques, their strivings and self-delusions handled with a combination of compassion and contempt. At the tip, they’re punished with a sadism that registers both the depth of their awfulness or the cruelty of the universe.

After catching head lice at a neighbor’s pool, a woman has her hair intently cropped, and later seems in an unflattering wig. Her mom brings her to a play date with an excruciatingly shy boy who is meant to contaminate her with measles. A barely older lady is pregnant. At least two boys are constructing bombs of their bedrooms. However wayward these youngsters is perhaps, their mother and father are worse — moody, useless, egocentric, aggressive, sexually confused …

The icky conditions are acted with deadpan sincerity by the youthful members of the solid and with misdirected depth by their elders. The story is each overwrought and underdeveloped, with probably necessary plot particulars insufficiently defined or unnoticed altogether. All in all, the film lives as much as its title, although maybe not in the best way the filmmakers meant.

Bad Tales
Not rated. In Italian, with subtitles. Watch via digital cinemas.