Tickets is, in effect, three short films, though they all take place on the same train in Italy and overlap very slightly. Each of the three segments is directed by a different director of international renown: Ermanno Olmi, Abbas Kiarostami, and Ken Loach. (American moviegoers may be familiar with the “three films in one” concept from 1989’s New York Stories, from directors Scorcese, Coppola and Allen.)
Olmi’s offering is about a professor traveling alone, daydreaming about a woman he’d just met at an academic conference. Kiarostami’s story concerns a kvetching, domineering widow traveling with a young man who’d prefer to be just about anywhere else. Loach closes with a tale of boisterous Scottish soccer fans traveling to an international match, faced with deciding whether to believe the sob story of a poor family short a ticket.
The first segment has almost no action and has to be watched closely to understand the psychology of what’s going on, and to pick up on what is only being imagined by the main character. The second has only a bit more action. The third has the most, but would likely still be a little slow for people used to mainstream movies.
Yet I stayed at least moderately interested throughout the film, and ended up liking it considerably more than one would expect given the above description. I was most entertained by the third story, but really I cared about the characters in all three, and all the stories provide a lot to think about.
What is it that drew me in about this film? In thinking about it, I’ve identified several factors.
One, I don’t recall a single thing a character says or does that is a clear “There’s no way that would happen in real life.” I didn’t have to suspend disbelief just because it’s a movie.
Two, it is never predictable, never formulaic. If I had guessed along the way is this person lying or telling the truth, or who will turn out to be right in this conflict, or is this person well or ill-motivated toward this person, or is this a person I’ll like more or like less by the end of the film, my success rate would have been no better than if I’d flipped coins.
Three, it deals with intelligent, adult themes, and it addresses them with subtlety and insight.
Four, there are unconventional aspects to the cinematography that work very well, rather than just seeming gimmicky or pointlessly making the film more obscure. For example, a dialogue where the camera stays on one of the two parties the entire time. Or a scene shot entirely from the perspective of someone peeking through a window partially covered by blinds.
Five, even though it’s not a comedy in any traditional sense, I got several good laughs from this movie–really almost all in the third story about the Scottish soccer fans–just from how crisp and clever (though not phony) the dialogue is. (Very glad they subtitled that third story by the way. They are speaking English, but I would have been lucky to understand 25% of it without the subtitles.) The back and forth with the soccer fans’ Scottish slang is a hoot.
Six, almost every scene, every piece of dialogue, is well-constructed and psychologically interesting in how the people interact, even when it is not crucial to moving along the plot. It’s as if the filmmakers’ attention is not limited to the functional; along the way they’re showing other things happening to these characters as they might happen in real life, and thereby letting you gradually understand them better. And not just the main characters; even the peripheral characters are allowed to be interesting flesh and blood people, rather than just manifesting the one dimension of themselves necessary for their role in someone else’s story.
This movie will have limited appeal for those enamored with more conventional, big budget fare, but I found it to be a pleasant surprise. I really think the filmmakers hit all the right notes and get the most that could realistically be expected out of this concept.