“A Five Star Life” is an intelligent, well-acted, subtle film, with a story line that is quite rare — it’s about a perfectly happy 40-ish single woman. The splendid Margherita Buy plays the attractive, self-assured Irene, whose enviable profession is critiquing five-star hotels and resorts. She appears as an incognito hotel guest while secretly evaluating her prey.
Irene, and therefore the audience, have the luxury of visiting fabulous five-star hotels in Paris, Gstaad, Marrakesh, Tuscany, Berlin, Apulia and Shanghai. We also are treated to some of the landmark sights that surround each hotel … the Place de la Concorde, the Brandenburg Gate, the markets and mountains of Marrakesh. The hotels and their surroundings are beautifully filmed. Each is bathed in its own special light.
The checklist from which Irene evaluates the hotels becomes the film’s narrative: Do you feel comfortable? Do the employees make eye contact? As the movie progresses, many of the narrator’s questions apply to life outside, as well as inside, the exclusive resorts.
With the tools of her trade in hand, white gloves, thermometer, questions for the concierge, Irene searches for imperfection, and often finds it. Dust on top of the mirror frame? Stains on the sheets? Room service soup served below 104 degrees? Irene also observes the way in which other hotel guests are treated. When a young unsophisticated couple is disregarded and snubbed by the hotel’s staff, its rating is penalized.
Since she travels most of the time, Irene’s only personal life revolves around her sister, the lackadaisical Sylvia (Fabrizia Sacchi), Sylvia’s two young daughters, and her former lover and now best friend, Andrea (Stefano Accorsi). Both Sylvia and Andrea suffer the pains and joys of intimacy. Sylvia’s husband has given up on sex, much to her disappointment. Andrea accidently impregnates a woman who wishes to have the child.
While lounging in a hotel spa (temperature unknown), Irene accidently meets Kate (nice job by Leslie Manville) an English pundit, whose sparkle and autonomy intrigue Irene and the audience. But Kate exits the film suddenly. Yet, even in their brief encounters, Irene has been affected by Kate.
As the film ends, Irene and her sister are having a phone conversation. Sylvia would like to have lunch with Irene, but Irene is, once again, at an airport.
Director Maria Sole Tognazzi said about “A Five Star Life,” “I wanted to make a film about an authentic woman — alone, but happy — without going into the clichés of the selfish and problematic career woman.” Tired of seeing single women portrayed as “… losers, or betrayed, or victims,” director Tognazzi wanted “to give voice to a real character, a woman who, despite not having a family, children or a steady job feels happy because she has been able to choose what to do with her life. And even if it is not a perfect life, it is the life that she evidently wanted.”
Yet interestedly, many reviewers and commenters seem to have regarded Irene as being lonely rather than being alone. While it’s true that Irene’s singlehood is called into question during “A Five Star Life,” it is others, not Irene, who question Irene’s choices.
Margherita Buy very much deserved the David di Donatello award (Italian Oscar®) she won for her role of Irene. She imbues Irene with confidence, intelligence, and allure. And although “A Five Star Life” can be slow at moments, in its own way, it’s an important film about women, and should be seen.