August 8, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: 'Five Star Life' makes for a two-and-a-half star film

'A Five Star Life' stars Margherita Buy as an inspector of five-star luxury hotels who lives a mostly empty life. (Music Box Films)

The only problem with Irene’s five-star life is she does very little actual living.

One of those rambling European films with little plot but lots of atmosphere, “A Five Star Life” follows Irene (Margherita Buy) as she goes about her business, which is secretly inspecting five-star luxury hotels. A mature beauty, Irene doesn’t have a lover, any children or much money, apparently, but she does have a pair of white gloves at the ready to search out dust.

The premise gives director Maria Sole Tagnazzi plenty to shoot as Irene is sent to lavish inns in Italy, Switzerland, Morocco, Germany, always posing undercover as a businesswoman or heiress. Irene narrates along the way, letting us know the rules of elite hospitality. And she uncovers offenses — a slipper left beneath a bed, staff ignoring a rural couple, water glasses out of alignment. It’s enough to give a place a bad reputation.

When she’s not staying at these palaces, though, Irene can’t afford to be the person she pretends to be. She has a simple flat, a former lover who’s her best (only) friend and a forgetful sister with two small girls whom Irene loves, even if she doesn’t quite understand the kid thing. But her work keeps her too busy for her to put down any real roots.

And so the film wanders back and forth, from Irene’s life of luxury to its more mundane mechanics. Someone gets pregnant, someone gets in a fight, someone’s sex life is dead. And then a personal butler is offering Irene a glass of ginseng-infused tea.

Eventually — very eventually — Irene meets a plain-speaking author (Lesley Manville) at a hotel and has a revelation of sorts. But it’s hardly momentous. Life just flows by in “A Five Star Life,” moving between empty and pampered, never quite truthful but, as they say, comfortably numb.

'A Five Star Life'


Not rated

Running time: 85 minutes

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