12. A Five Star Life, directed by
Maria Sole Tognazzi

12. A Five Star Life, directed by
Maria Sole Tognazzi

In A Five Star Life, Reviewing Hotels

Has More Perks Than Reviewing Movies


Conjure in your mind a dream job. Does it include travel, flexibility and money? Think about success. Does this mean excelling in your career? Financial security? Surely then, real success extends beyond occupation to also include life goals. Perhaps a home, friends and family. But who is defining these successes and goals? Is it yourself or other external forces?

Irene (Margherita Buy) is a woman of success. She is attractive, confident and skilled. As a professional ‘mystery guest’, she rates and reviews 5-star hotels for a living, jetting from one country to the next, ordering room service, trialling each extravagant room and bathing in every pool. Mocking the excessive system of reviewing, voice-overs explain the extent of the grading system sporadically throughout the film, comically listing the endless criteria: does the concierge maintain sufficient eye contact? Does he smile and refer to your name? Is his uniform ironed and, for God’s sake, are his shoes up to standard? Is there a distinctive scent in the halls and rooms? Is the room temperature suitable and is every detail of the hotel fully explained?

Other characters further accentuate the absurdity of the five-star rating. When her friend comes to stay at one hotel, he goes to drink the freshly delivered wine, only to have a thermometer shoved into his glass by Irene before declaring that it’s 2 degrees too warm! Compounded by the short procedural shots, the idea of a ‘dream job’ is undermined. In fact, the joyous experience of luxury hotels begins to have a sterile edge.

Irene (Margherita Buy), with an eye for the finer things. (Bianca Film)

As the other women reviewers drop off around her, quitting to get married and have babies, Irene remains unhampered by children or a romantic partner, allowing her a freedom to come and go as she pleases. Effectively, she is the perfect woman for the job. Of course, there are two sides to every coin, and Irene knows how her life appears to others – her boss describes her job as one “for singles with no husbands, kids, girlfriends”, to which Irene drily re-joins that she is the best worker because she has “no life.”

In reality though, Irene does have a full, rich life. Her support network is a tight one, including her best friend and ex-partner Andrea, whom she is her true, comfortable self with. She has family, in the form of her sister Silvia, who is married with two children. Irene is self-assured and independent, highly intelligent (multilingual!) and unconcerned with the societal expectations that oppress those around her. She defines life by her own terms. People project their insecurities onto others, seen here by those expressing concern that Irene remains alone and ‘getting on’ in age. Really, they are concealing a deep dissatisfaction with their own lives. Complaining of a disconnection between her husband and kids, Silvia secretly views Irene as the ‘cool’ auntie who can afford small luxuries and slip away from the inherent chaos associated with children.

Everyone had a cool auntie like Irene. (Bianca Film)

Traversing to new, far-flung destinations at a moment’s notice, we are transplanted into new environments from scene to scene. Stringed instrumentation sweeps us up in the thrill of new locations, while plucky, step-like melodies reflect the ticking of Irene’s mind as she analyses each hotel. Director Maria Sole Tognazzi captures a distinctive feel in every country, by shooting in contrasting light and weather. The location of Irene’s family and friends becomes the axis of familiarity from which we swing into the exotic. It speaks of our need for comfort as human beings and as viewers.

People expect things of others, whether or not they expect it themselves. As a society we have built up expectations – that by a certain age people will have kids, a family, a partner. Demonstrating the potential fallacy of these expectations, A Five Star Life also celebrates those comfortable in challenging them. Irene unapologetically lives a life that she wants, irrespective of what other people seek in theirs, or want for her. It’s important to note that not all desires are the same, and refreshing to have a character that subverts the ambitions or ‘life stages’ that are constantly reinforced in our society and in the media. As the film notes, happiness and wellbeing are strictly personal concepts. As humans we may seek comfort, security and familiarly, but the question to ask ourselves: is that really what I want?

Maria Sole Tognazzi and a crew member behind the scenes of A Five Star Life. (Uncredited)

When I first watched this film, I got muddied in the distinction between independence and loneliness, as Irene does at times. Part of this is because the distinction becomes blurred when influenced by the opinions of others. But this is a highly modern film, and re-watching it, the director clearly aims to empower her protagonist through a lens of self-assuredness and excitement. Breaking the mould in terms of age and the typically represented ‘high-powered-stone-cold-bitch-career-woman’, for once we see a woman who is successful, single and completely fulfilled.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *