The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>Salvo</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Salvo

A mafia hitman protects the blind sister of his latest victim from his ruthless employer.

Directed by: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza
Starring: Saleh Bakri, Luigi Lo Cascio, Sara Serraiocco, Mario Pupella

Salvo (Bakri), a soldier in the Sicilian Mafia, is chauffering his boss (Pupella) when they are ambushed by an armed gang. Finding the address of the man responsible, Salvo arrives at his home to find his target's sister, Rita (Serraiocco) living there. Due to her blindness, Rita is initially unaware of Salvo's presence in her home but when her brother arrives and is executed, she is abducted by Salvo, who is unable to bring himself to kill her. Telling his boss that Rita has been taken care of, Salvo hides the girl in a disused industrial estate but when his employers learn of his deception, Salvo must decide between Rita and the Mafia.
The latest edition of the Cannes Film Festival is little over a month away but such are the distribution patterns of European cinema that some of the festival's 2013 highlights are still trickling out to theaters almost a full year later. Asghar Farhadi's Palme d'Or nominee The Past finally reaches us in the coming weeks but now we get to see the winner of the Critics' Week Grand Prize, Salvo.
The movie is the debut of Italian duo Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza but draws heavily on elements explored in their short film Rita from 2009. Both the short and the feature center around a blind girl named Rita whose home is invaded by a criminal figure. In the short, Rita helps her invader hide out, while here she is abducted by Salvo as a means of saving her.
Both films use sound to convey how their blind protagonists experience the world. Salvo's greatest moment is a bravura scene near the beginning when Rita comes to realize an intruder has entered her home. The camera stays focused straight on her face while the stunning sound design creates an unbearable tension. Her brother's killing is made all the more shocking by allowing us only to hear his screams while we focus on his sister's terrified face as she clutches a security blanket tightly to her chest.
Grassadonia and Piazza evoke the spirit of Jean Pierre Melville by focusing on the mundanity of their hitman's life and his disinterest in the world around him. Holed up in the basement of a safe house, the couple hosting him make a constant fuss about air conditioning and food, two vital parts of Sicilian culture, but Salvo barely breaks a sweat and shows no interest in eating, as though he were a ghost.
For all its technical virtuosity, particularly in the sound design department, it's the film's two leads that leave the greatest impression. Bakri is a striking presence who, despite resembling a Mediterranean male model, carries a palpable sense of brooding menace. Background information on Serraiocco has proven impossible to come by so I'm unsure as to whether the actress is actually blind herself, but she certainly had me convinced.
Ultimately, due to its slightness, Salvo is a film that draws more admiration than emotional involvement, but if Grassadonia and Piazza can find some substance to add to their clinical command of sight and sound they'll certainly be a duo for cinephiles to keep an eye on.

Eric Hillis