Coffee opens by explaining that our morning drink of choice has three dominant flavors: bitter, sour, and a bit of aromatic sweetness towards the end. Such too is life and such is this film layered in complex flavors. In the first official co-production between China and Italy, director Cristiano Bortone reflects the uncertainties of our times across cultural lines by pointing out a common thread as simple, and as complicated as coffee.

“…our morning drink of choice has three dominant flavors: bitter, sour, and a bit of aromatic sweetness…”

Three stories are woven together from three different lands. In Belgium, during riots, a precious coffee pot is stolen from Hamed’s (Hichem Yacoubi) shop. The thief, Vincent (Arne De Tremerie) drops his wallet so Hamed learns his identity and undertakes to go get his property and his vengeance.

In Italy, Renzo (Dario Aita), a young coffee roasting expert, desperate for income, instigates a robbery of exotic, expensive coffee beans that goes south.

In China, Ren Fei (Fangsheng Lu), a factory manager engaged to the owner’s daughter finds out that his factory risks destroying a valley in the Yunnan, the beautiful region on the border with Laos that grows the richest coffee beans.

In Belgium and Italy, the players are working class men scrambling to keep body and soul together to support those who depend on them. Desperate acts seem rational in the face of increasingly difficult times. Renzo learns his girlfriend is pregnant. Vincent looks after his elderly grandmother and he is the father to a small child. Both are under enormous pressure to provide for their families.

For Ren Fei in China, life is good. He’s a farm boy who found success in the city in the business world. Only upon returning to the small farming village where the factory sits is he reminded of his pastoral youth and the people and values he left behind.

These tales are presented as straightforward morality fables. Situational ethics where the evil rich are pitted against the noble poor, or racial strife when the life of a foreigner like Hamed is seen to have less value than the interests of local people. The cinematography of the Chinese countryside is breathtakingly beautiful as Fei reconnects with the land and people who are strikingly real and colorful compared to the greys and muted tones of the city. Dialog is spoken in multiple languages with subtitles.

“…Coffee is executed skillfully and with respectful gravitas

The film is an ambitious and interesting novelty that succeeds moderately well. The three scripts are tenuously tied together, but not enough to pique more than mild interest in their intersections. Insufficient time is spent with the characters to build empathy for them or care much about them. Still, Coffee is executed skillfully and with respectful gravitas, it’s pleasant to watch. In the end, as do all connoisseurs of life’s rich flavors, we taste the bitter, the sour, and a little of the sweet in these stolen moments we witness on screen.

On VOD February 9th and DVD May 15th.

Coffee (2018) Directed by: Cristiano Bortone. Written By: Cristiano Bortone, Annalaura Ciervo, Minghua Shi, Matthew Thompson. Starring: Dario Aita, Hichem Yacoubi, Miriam Dalmazio.

6 out of 10

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