Out come the gloves. In the terrific comedy-drama A Five Star Life, Irene (Margherita Buy) works as a “mystery guest,” an inspector who evaluates cleanliness and service in luxury hotels. She is very good at her job. Irene finds fault with a slipper left under a bed, or the temperature of room service food and wine. She makes sure the glasses on the hotel’s restaurant tables are aligned, and that the staff’s treatment of all of its clientele exceeds expectations.
It is entertaining to watch these insider episodes unfold not only because of the fabulous hotel settings, but also the insight to details. Moreover, Irene’s reaction to what she sees are wonderful. Buy expresses a dissatisfaction, weariness, and the occasional smile with noticeable élan. She is an unflappable guest who has the canny ability to handle both the professionals in her business, but also strangers who try to chat her up.
A Five Star Life shows that while her work may be enviable, Irene’s personal life is messy. Her little-seen apartment is largely empty, and contains mostly hotel soaps and frozen food. She and her sister, Silvia (Fabrizia Sacchi), are diametric opposites: SIlvia wants Irene to become more settled; Irene would prefer Silvia be more attentive to things.
Irene also has a close friendship with her ex, Andrea (Stefano Accorsi), who, it is revealed, is about to become a father with a woman he does not know very well.
As the film hopscotches from Paris to Italy to Gstaad to Morocco and back to Italy, Irene faces dramas both small and large. On one trip, she brings along her nieces, one of whom gets homesick, a feeling Irene tries to mollify. Back in Italy, Irene is hypercritical towards both an apartment Andrea is considering, and a dress her sister wants to buy.
Things take a curious turn for Irene and the film when she meets Kate Sherman, an anthropologist, during one hotel visit. Irene forms a connection with this stranger, who seems to share her values. Their conversation and its aftermath prompt Irene to re-evaluate her life and her relationships with others.
A Five Star Life may be about opulent hotels, but this modest, charming film is really about intimacy. A scene between Silvia and her husband discussing their sex life (or lack thereof) seems superfluous at first, but later, it emphasizes their closeness, which is something Irene craves. Likewise, the relationship developing between Andrea and the mother of his child, prompts Irene to examine her jealousy, and her fears of losing her best friend.
While these dramatic stories seem minor at best, the film is rather poignant as Irene grapples with loneliness and evaluates her experiences. Adept at assessment, she measures herself against those of strangers she meets—from a happily married man she dines with in Morocco, to Kate, who insists that luxury is the ability to live life to the fullest.
Suffice it to say, the film’s messages go down as smoothly as champagne, and sometimes with a little tickle from the dryly funny script.
A Five Star Life opens today at the Ritz Bourse.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and film critic. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming book, Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Follow him on twitter @garymkramer.