It’s nice when a film chooses not to overstay its welcome, as writer-director Giuseppe Garau understands in The Accident. For 65 minutes, Garau drops viewers in on Marcella (Giulia Mazzarino), a single mother whose life is falling apart. Over the course of one day where she’s late picking her daughter up from school, she gets fired by her boss (who also happens to be the father of her ex and grandfather to her child), gets into a minor car crash with her daughter, and ends up losing custody. By using a clever formal gimmick that limits events to a single perspective, The Accident makes for a kinetic, creative, surprisingly funny experience as we watch Marcella not so much climb her way back to the top as drag herself through the mud, one humiliation to another, just to come out the other side.

That formal gimmick doesn’t take long to deduce after the hellish opening sequence of Marcella’s firing and car crash. Garau and cinematographer Giulia Scintu, shooting on 16mm with a low budget, photograph everything from the same position on the opposite side of the car, framing Marcella in a shallow-focus close-up for nearly the entire runtime. After the accident, a conversation with her car’s tow truck driver inspires Marcella to devise an unconventional method to get back on her feet financially and see her daughter again: she buys an old tow truck herself and tries to run her own business picking up cars. It’s a straightforward set-up that neatly ties to the self-imposed restriction on the camera; the use of close-ups and the car’s interior both box Marcella in while the constant driving means we never get a moment’s rest. It takes no time to comprehend Marcella’s frazzled psychological state and the precarious situation she finds herself in.

The choice to film within a vehicle invites comparisons to The Plains, David Easteal’s 2022 feature that similarly shoots almost entirely from the back seat of the protagonist’s car. But whiles Easteal relies on a static camera with long takes, Garau shoots handheld and uses jump cuts. The Accident resembles the familiar, social-realist style popularized by the Dardenne Brothers; it comes as a surprise the film is more of a dark comedy than tense drama. As well-meaning and sincere as Marcella may be, her naivete about the line of work she’s thrown herself into engenders trouble. As she tries establishing her towing business, competing drivers intimidate, harass, and attack Marcella to force her out. These moments, while bleak, wring laughs from Marcella’s stubborn ignorance. (“We’re in Italy. It’s a civilized country,” she says just before a smash cut proves her wrong.) And as she finds clever ways to get an advantage over violent competitors, it’s easy to root for her to come out ahead.

Without getting too much into narrative details, Marcella stumbles upon a solution––convoluted and unethical, but one she embraces. With that development, Garau underlines a greater point about the ways capitalism degrades individuals into deploying any means necessary to justify making ends meet. It’s here the limited space that The Accident operates in comes in handy, the immediacy of plot and action making its themes develop alongside the film without overwhelming it. A slim runtime might make the film appear a bit too slight for its own good, but The Accident is an entertaining, compact work that operates on its own terms.

The Accident premiered at the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival.

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