Toni Servillo (‘The Great Beauty’) struts his way emphatically through Stefano Incerti’s subtle and stylish film as the eponymous Gorbaciof, a powerfully masculine man struggling with gambling debt but triumphant in his newly found love.
Servillo’s gnarly complexion is almost as striking as his performance here, adorned with a slicked-back, receding hairline mullet and some (rather dodgy) 70s throwback sideburns, he oozes charisma whilst being anything but conventionally attractive. To say he’s not sexual, though, is wrong. Gorbaciof is all sex. Full of testosterone he’s a beast of a man, strutting through his daily life pumped up on emotions and fuelled by his desires. Servillo embodies this most animalistic of men with power, pathos and precision.
Lila, played with perfectly tempered naivety by Mi Yang, is the innocence that Gorbaciof has long since lost. It’s a beautifully intimate and ambiguous relationship that forms between them and as they draw closer the barriers of paternal and sexual love begin to make way for the possibility of a real partnership. He sees her as his second chance, maybe the last chance, for happiness and for her part he is her knight in (greasy mulleted) shining armour and an escape route from a life she never chose for herself.
In one scene Gorbaciof walks into the restaurant where Lila works and sees her being harassed by some young men. Without missing a breath he beats them to the ground and throws them out, then downs a bottle of beer and walks off without saying a word. If that was Ryan Gosling there’d be women swooning in the aisles but with Toni Servillo we have an altogether different beast. A far more complex, mature and nuanced actor he brings a naturalistic and believable chemistry to the role.
At the heart of this stylish micro-drama is a romantic love story. Two characters that couldn’t be more different (they can’t even communicate with each other because of the Chinese/Italian language barrier) but between them, with her innocent beauty and his gentle kindness, they form a touching bond. The possibility of this relationship presents, for both of them, the chance to escape their respective lives but ultimately, and in the classical sense, it’s a tragedy.
Gorbaciof is jazz filmmaking – it’s not the moments you see, it’s the ones you don’t – and Incerti and Servillo combine to play these moments perfectly. It’s one of those rare and rewarding films that leave a little something with you.