Fiore and Gino, two Italian wheeler-dealers, one, older and more expert, the other, younger but eager to learn, arrive in post-communist Albania.
They want to buy a public shoe factory at a near to nothing cost, a scam which is made possible by the chaos that reigns in the disastrous economy of the country. There's just one obstacle: by law, they need an Albanian partner. But people like them know well how to overcome the problem. All they need to do is find a figure-head, a man of straw.
They find the ideal candidate in a former prison camp of the late regime. It's Spiro Tozaj, an old, sick, feeble-minded man who has spent thirty years in hard labour; he's completely alone in the world and doesn't know where to go. The poor old madman will be a docile instrument in their hands. All Spiro has do is sign the contracts for the purchase of the shoe factory. And if he doesn't understand what he's doing, all the better.
Everything goes smoothly. The contract is signed and Fiore returns to Italy leaving his assistant to look after business and Spiro.
Gino, an unedugated, provincial young man, with few prospects back home, thus suddenly finds himself the managing director of a shoe factory, his pockets full of money, in a foreign country where, if you're Italian, you can get what you want. But the day before Gino and Spiro have to go to the Ministry of Industry for bureaucratic matters, the old man disappears. After a frantic search, Gino finds him in hospital, in a town up north. On their way back, the wheels of Gino's car are stolen and they are left stranded hundreds of miles from the capital.
During the hazardous journey back across a country maimed by hunger and discontent and crossed by thousands of immigrants trying to reach Italy, Gino and the old man are forced to live like the rest of the Albanians: nights out in the open, long marches, rides on makeshift transport.
During the journey, Gino discovers Spiro's true identity. The old man has infact obliterated his pain and has created a comfortable madness for himself: he's convinced he's in Italy at the end of the war and that he and Gino are the same age. He's just over twenty and he's returning home where his young wife and four year old son are waiting for him.
Gino at first tries to open the old man's eyes to reality: this is Albania and not Italy, the war has been over for fifty years and his wife is probably dead by now. But seeing the poor old soldier's prostration, Gino gives up and decides to second him. All he wants, after all, is to bring him back to Tirana as soon as possible to make him sign the necessary papers for the deal. The old man can believe what he prefers, as long as he does what he is told. But Spiro's innocence and immense generosity towards the young man whom he believes to be a loyal fellow townsman, eventually gain Gino's sympathy.
When Gino finally manages to get to a phone and call Fiore, he is told the deal is off. Gino must return home as soon as possible.
The young man is desperate, he was really counting on the money he was going to earn with this scam. Spiro, who only understands that his friend is now out of work, tries naively to comfort him, suggesting they go work together as farm hands as soon as they're back in Sicily. Gino doesn't even answer: the old man was an accessory to the scam which has fallen through, he's no longer needed. He leaves Spiro in a hotel where they stop overnight. He gives the hotel keeper some money asking him to look after the old man for a while and maybe give him the odd job to do.
Gino returns to Tirana alone. But there he is arrested for corruption of the Albanian official with which they'd signed the shoe factory deal. It's a hard blow which the young man wasn't expecting. He spends a night in jail, signs a statement and the police confiscate his passport and release him on bail. Pennyless, dressed like an Albanian, without documents, Gino wanders about the rioting town, mixing with the masses of immigrants heading for the port in the hope of boarding a ship to Italy. He blends in that crowd of desperados as if he were one of them. There is nothing left of the arrogant Italian of the nineties.
His aborted journey of conquest ends on one of the exodus ships sailing to Bari. It's the only way he has to get back to Italy, to flee from the Albanian courts.
On the deck of the old cargo half sunk under the weight of thousands of immigrants, he sees Spiro. He too has boarded. Gino tries to avoid him, feeling ashamed, but the old man bares no grudges, he's probably forgotten he was dumped along the way. He beckons the young man to sit next to him and Gino can't refuse. Spiro is happy and has conceived the ultimate folly: for him that ship isn't headed for Italy but for America where a serene and prosperous future awaits them all.
Gino hasn't got the courage to disillusion him, and there'll be no need to. Spiro will not live to the end of the crossing. Gino is with him while the old man daydreams about America and gradually yields, with the modesty and innocence with which he has always lived, to the fatigue of the last journey" of his difficult existance.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Gianni Amelio

Written by: Gianni Amelio, Andrea Porporati, Alessandor Sermoneta

Produced by: Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Mario Cecchi Gori

Cinematography: Luca Bigazzi

Editing: Simona Paggi

Production Design: Giuseppe Gaudino

Costume Design: Liliana Sotira, Claudia Tenaglia

Sound: Alessandro Zanon

Cast: Enrico lo Verso (Gino), Michèle Placido (Fiore)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Film 1994
  • Feature Film Selection 1994