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By Mark Bell | August 6, 2014

When a sophisticated “mystery guest” travels the globe scrutinizing which hotels are worthy of the highly coveted five star rating, she discovers more than dust lurking behind the mirrored opulence.

Maria Sole Tognazzi’s A Five Star Life takes us into the secret world of the luxury hotel inspection business, as seen through the eyes of Irene, a professional hotel investigator. To best do her job, the white-gloved Irene, must keep her identity as inspector to herself when speaking to hotel staff and guests. And so she sits in the plush dining rooms, terraces and pool sides of France, Italy and Morocco—tasting, sipping, watching and evaluating—while the rest of the world goes on as usual. With the exception, of course, of those nervously standoffish hotel officials, who have a pretty keen inkling who Irene is, in spite of her attempts to deceive them. Yes indeed, they know exactly what the very glamorous Irene can do to them if they don’t watch out.

If all of this seems like cut-throat-exotica at its most sterile-finest, look a bit deeper and you’ll see much more. What you’ll notice behind the glitz, glamour and mystique of Irene’s job is a forty-plus woman, without a real life of her own. It is here where Tognazzi shines as a filmmaker, as she introduces a series of the most uniquely-mundane characters you’ll ever want to meet. These include, Irene’s sister Sylvia, an absent minded and frustrated housewife. Sylvia has two adorable but cheeky little girls, and a husband who’s forgotten that the bedroom is not just for sleeping.

Then there’s Irene’s ex-boyfriend, Andrea. Irene and Andrea have been on-again-off-again for fifteen years, share no children or any kind of romance, but are not quite ready to cut their cord. Enter Fabiana, Andrea’s beautiful, one-night-stand who gets pregnant, and will have Andrea’s baby, with or without him. Sound like a set-up? Maybe…

Then there are the very short-term folks who bounce in and out of Irene’s life but make a definite impact. These include a handsome but sketchy married man, and Kate, an activist-anthropologist who believe women have an obligation to live life to the fullest, no matter what.

And speaking of activism of the most profound and provocative variety, that’s precisely the vibe I get from A Five Star Life. Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in the sometimes, soap-opera-esque feel of certain scenes, and the hilarious Fawlty Towers flavor of other segments, but there’s so much more. Oh, and did I mention the captivating cinematography which creates beauty at the same time it disturbs mood?

In a word, A Five Star Life is rich. See it and you’ll understand what I mean.

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