Magazine article Screen International


Magazine article Screen International


Article excerpt

Dir/sc: Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza. Italy-France. 2013. 109mins

The meeting between a Sicilian mafia hitman and the blind sister of one of his victims is a catalyst for change in Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza's feature debut. Like Paolo Sorrentino's The Consequences Of Love or Leonardo Di Costanzo's recent The Interval, Salvo defies our expectations of the gangster genre film, using a tentative but inevitably doomed boy-girl rapprochement to play off against the violence and suffering outside and stake a claim for humanity, even some kind of mystic salvation, in the midst of savage chaos. This it does convincingly, with a passion and intensity which, however, would be more effective if the characters had more depth and the whole thing didn't feel so stretched.

Much of the imagery is pregnant with symbolism: in Italian, the name Salvo is also a verb meaning 'I save', and there is some business to do with the laying on of hands, and wounds on Rita's palms.

Salvo is a reworking of the co-directors' short film Rita, which told a similar story through much younger protagonists. Equally impressionistic in its use of the blind girl's 'point of view', Salvo plays out in a hot and claustrophobic Palermo of rented rooms, jerry-built seaside houses, dark basements, mob-controlled streets and crumbling factories, and it's the directors' control of this oppressive atmosphere, their vision of a world out of joint, which stands out. This strength of vision will potentially help the film secure a few arthouse berths outside of Italy despite its narrative shortcomings.

The car radio news tells us we're in Palermo, and in the middle of a heatwave, as we see Salvo (Bakri) and the tough-skinned but world-weary old Mafia boss he works for (Pupella) foil an attempt on the boss's life. Searching for the man who ordered the botched execution, Salvo enters his beachfront house, and the adrenalin of the foot-chase suddenly slows down, and strays into existential mystery territory, as Salvo pads silently through the building, coming across the rival boss's blind sister, Rita (Serraiocco), counting money in the basement.

The two enter on a charged, slow motion 'chase' through the house that is a premonition of how the relationship between them will develop. These first, almost dialogue-free twenty minutes, which display impressive control of lighting, off-screen noises and camera point of view, are utterly absorbing. …

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