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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