It might seem like a macho bar, with no wives, fiancés or girlfriends allowed inside. But Bar Margherita is, for those who give it a closer look, a place where friendships are made, where mistakes are ultimately forgiven, and where the bonds holding its patrons together remain unbreakable.
The Italian film “Gli amici del bar Margherita (Friends at Bar Margherita), as the name suggests, chronicles the lives of the bar’s patrons over the course of a year: 1954.
The rules for the bar are set in the beginning. Taddeo (Pierpaolo Zizzi), who’s striving to join the bar and be accepted and respected by its group, writes down the rules as he reads them out loud to a filmmaker, who is making a documentary about the bar and its regulars.
Taddeo keeps his role as the impartial narrator, giving the filmmaker a brief background on each one of the group. In a true documentary style, the camera moves from Taddeo’s narration in color to the documentary’s black and white shots.
Taddeo starts the story with the group photo that he doesn’t appear in, and his impartiality as the narrator only dissolves when the camera follows him. Gradually, Taddeo is revealed as a sociopath, blinded by his desire to be accepted in the bar and fit in society as a whole. He easily comes up with sophisticated lies but doesn’t realize when he’s being taken advantage of.
When Al (Diego Abatantuono), the de facto leader of the group, makes him drive him around and pay the bills, Taddeo maintains his opinion that Al is a sincere person. When the girl he likes tells him to call her three months later, he genuinely believes that she has feelings for him. Towards the end of the film he ignores his grandfather’s illness and imminent death to focus on preparing for his own birthday party.
This quirkiness or eccentricity isn’t limited to Taddeo, but is an inherit characteristic of all patrons and the relationship that ties them together. Through a myriad of small telling details, each character stands out on it own, emphasizing its individuality and its own eccentricity.
There’s Mentos (Bob Messini) who “fried his brain by drinking a bottle of tequila in one gulp during a fight with his wife. Another regular, Manuelo (Luigi Lo Cascio) prides in his obsession with women and sex, often referring to himself as a nymphomaniac.
None of them is perfect, but they all accept each other’s faults and shortcomings, albeit with few skirmishes.
Gian (Fabio De Luigi), who wants to be a singer, falls victim to a sick joke from another bar regular. As embarrassing and heartbreaking the joke is, eventually comes to terms with his friend’s good intentions.
These good intentions lead the group to interfere, with apparent cruelty, to stop their friend Bep (Neri Marcorè) from going through with a marriage that will leave him miserable. Whether he’d forgive them for or recover from the implications of their interference is left to the very end.
But as the stories unfold in a mix of drama and black comedy, viewers are bound to fall in love with each character and find its eccentricity endearing.
This eccentricity is a signature style of director Pupi Avati, who’s known for experimenting with all film genres known to man, from drama and horror to comedy, fantasy and historical features.
Avati’s semi-autobiographical film, which he also wrote, doesn’t only bank on the past as a source for stories, but also borrows from it some old-school filmmaking. The result is a euphoric feel-good comedy about friendship, reminiscent of many of the memorable productions of the pre-1980s cinema.