An extremely low key and earnest police procedural, "The Girl by the Lake" eschews most of the stylized dramatics of conventional crime drama. This surprisingly simple and straightforward film charts a pretty realistic and methodical murder investigation. This Italian mystery unfolds at a leisurely pace, so if you're looking for action mayhem--this is not the picture for you! Infused with a melancholy and sadness, "The Girl by the Lake" is most successful at revealing a small town dynamic and the secrets inherent within such an intimate environment. Shot in an absolutely gorgeous and idyllic village, the town's beauty stands in stark contrast to the unpleasantness that must be exposed.
The film begins with a brilliant bit of trickery that instantly pulls you into the action. Once the initial red herring is revealed, however, the primary story line becomes clear. A local girl is found nude and carefully positioned at the lake (I suppose you might have gathered that, however, from the title!). Sensing that the culprit was someone she knew, the police (headed by a great character actor Toni Servillo) start to track her last day of life. In this small village, it seems everyone has a connection to the girl--but no real motive. At times, the crime itself takes a back seat as the investigators start to uncover secrets about the past, about town inhabitants, and about the girl herself. And as we circle around the eventual solution, there might be more than one crime to shed light on.
"The Girl by the Lake" doesn't succeed with big shocks and stunning surprises. It is as calm as the lake in question. Servillo personally connects to the case as he sees some parallels to his own home life. And so with dogged determination, he steadfastly pursues answers. A real procedural, in the strictest sense, all the dramatic weight is provided in suspect and witness interviews. And as each person relates whatever information they have, a bigger and more complicated picture emerges. Well scripted and finely acted, this is a quiet film that remains firmly grounded in character. A uniquely intimate crime story, this is one successful picture that never has to try too hard. KGHarris, 3/11.