3/06/2015

Film Movement DVD Review: Salvo (2013) and Rita (2009)


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Addressing the stifling heat wave and resulting power outages currently oppressing the residents of Sicily, a male radio announcer exclaims that "there is no end to this hell in Palermo."

However when you consider that the line is heard early on in Salvo, you're quick to discover after only the first act that he might just as well have been setting the stage for and/or predicting the narrative effectiveness of this unusual crime film from Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza.

Initially it begins as a noble experiment to infuse the symbolic arthouse picture with a cross between Spaghetti Westerns and hardboiled Film Noir. However, Salvo takes what should have been an exciting premise about a hitman who comes face to face with his own humanity after he crosses paths with a blind girl (in what seems like a thematic and topical homage to director John Woo's contemporary classic The Killer) and squanders it on delusions of pretentious grandeur.


An Italian/French co-production, Salvo nonetheless did well during France's Cannes Film Festival where it took home a Visionary Award and the Critic's Week Prize.

Yet while the attention to sensory detail is a highpoint given the heightened ambient sound design from Michael Haneke's talented collaborator and some jaw-droppingly long tracking shots that seem to go on forever, all of the impressive techniques in the world can't hide the fact that despite its expressionistic beauty, Salvo has little (if anything) compelling to say.


A meditation on loneliness, Salvo forces its clunky symbolism of the literal and metaphorical "I once was blind but now can see" variety down our throat from start to finish.

Unfortunately, without any storytelling logic nor rhyme, reason or understanding of our characters to balance it out or make the over-the-top plot twist (in a largely plot-free movie) believable, ironically in the end it's mostly the viewers of Salvo who've been left in the dark.


Newly released on DVD from Film Movement, Salvo's disc features not only interviews with the writer/directors but also the 2009 short film companion Rita to this 2013 feature.

Focusing on the same core ingredients but shot with a greater emphasis on the (now younger) blind female character's point-of-view, Rita comes across both creepier and less sympathetically in its depiction of a girl who bonds with the man who just murdered her relatives.


Although the feature's treatment of this is handled with more poignancy and poetry to varying degrees of success, Salvo goes nowhere fast by offering us little insight or explanation to the who, what, where, when, why or how of what is otherwise a largely silent film.

More concerned with atmosphere and ambience as well as an art school student's devotion to symbolism and allegory, Salvo couldn't be less subtle if it were filmed in black and white, featured a Greek chorus, and/or a scene where its characters played chess with death.

Although their creativity is undeniable – in order to make vastly superior films and avoid the endless hell alluded to at the start of the movie – Grassadonia and Piazza would be better off relying on another to take their ideas and transform them into a screenplay that's well worth the time, expense, and effort of being brought to either short or full length cinematic life.


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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Movie Review: October Gale (2014)


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An actress of great emotional depth and tremendous skill – over the past twenty years, Patricia Clarkson has honed her skills as a humanistic mathematician.

As such, she's made a career out of transforming even the most blandly underwritten one-dimensional characters on the page into fully realized three-dimensional individuals on the screen.

And given her propensity for navigating the rough terrain of heartbreak and misfortune as well as her innate understanding of the inner workings of the women she brings to life, we often see Clarkson in the role of head matriarch as the figurative captain of a ship she's trying to get back on course following a tragedy.


She does this once again in IFC's October Gale, which marks her second collaboration with her Cairo Time writer-director Ruba Nadda.

Therefore it's only fitting that the role of Helen, a recently widowed physician still mourning the death of her beloved husband, seems tailor-made for the star.

Yet by giving Clarkson her long awaited opportunity to play an ordinary woman turned action hero –due to extraordinary circumstances – Nadda raised the stakes for the actress and Gale to levels reminiscent of The River Wild and Dead Calm.


And once the plot starts to build after a clumsily edited, slow-moving, flashback soaked first act, the result is a mostly successful character driven thriller.

Set on a Canadian island, Gale finds the mild-mannered Helen fighting for her life after giving emergency first aid to a gunshot victim embodied by Scott Speedman's handsome stranger.

Soon stranded at the cabin by someone she thought she knew, when the man who shot Speedman's Will comes back to finish the job, Helen is forced to confront not only the harsh elements of the Canadian wild but also question just who exactly she can trust.


Although the pace quickens along with the peril, the overwhelming amount of bittersweet flashbacks (showcasing Helen and her husband in happier times) threatens to ground Gale to a halt before it even gets going.

Making the first half feel nearly twice as long– along with a sharper edit and tighter script, October Gale would've benefitted from a dual plotline – building greater momentum by introducing Will's storyline earlier on given both its complexity as well as the undeniably riveting nature of his character's own flashbacks.

Admittedly skirting the edges of romantic storytelling stereotypes and pushing the limits of logic a few times as Speedman's sensitive, classic literature loving "bad boy" Will goes from at-risk to Action Jackson a bit too quickly, the shortcomings in Nadda's ambitious Gothic tinged thriller are easily forgiven due to its overall genre novelty.


Buoyed by its core ensemble cast including a brief but effective cameo late in the film from Tim Roth, Gale is a flawed yet worthwhile work of moody Saturday night movie suspense that celebrates brains over brawn in its penultimate sequence.

A real world thriller anchored by a real woman instead of a Lara Croft or Wonder Woman type, the vital message of self-reliance, independence, and empowerment at any age provides this action movie with a role worthy of Clarkson, who visibly relishes showing us the kickass side of her usual melodrama-prone matriarch.
   

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.