Franco Lolli's debut feature is a contemporary exercise in Neorealism that concerns itself with the misfortunes of a slightly disheveled pair. Ten-year-old Erik seems nothing short of a hoodlum in the making. His father Gabriel is a lethargic layabout who means well but cannot get his finances straight.
A greener pasture lures in the home of Maria Isabel, whose house is filled with ice cream, Nintendo Wii and high-top sneakers. These artefacts are a nice change from Gabriel's scruffy shoes Lolli never fails to draw attention to. But can they better the person who's not accustomed to them, or even hold their luster? Not for Lolli, who brings home the message that lower class may play at passing as superstructure-in-disguise, but will never outgrow the soil it was raised in.
True to the genre he takes as his source of inspiration, Lolli pegs his characters as specific social types in a heavily scripted melodrama where no scene is without its overt message. Unfortunately, this is a move that actively undermines the 'truth' of the documentary quality he tries to advocate with the handheld camera.
There's another caveat for a social problem film: do not make it sappy! Lolli feels no shame in tugging a few heartstrings, and sets off cooing fits with scenes that take the pair's pooch to the pound, and eventually put it to sleep.
'Gente de Bien' has its merits, but there's no merit in staging politics as Lifetime melodrama – a film that aims at sensitizing people shouldn't feel dishonest.