J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Salvo: The Darkness Never Breaks in Palermo

Salvo Mancuso is not what you would call talkative, but he is a direct communicator. He is a mafia hitman-driver, because it suits his skill set and social aptitude. Any possible relationship with blind Rita is probably therefore destined to fail, especially since he is out to kill her brother in Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza’s Salvo (trailer here), which releases on DVD today from Film Movement.

Times are tough for the Sicilian mob. Mancuso’s boss is not exactly in hiding, but he is definitely hunkering down. Someone also decided it was a good time to try to take out Mancuso and his associate. He was wrong. After coolly dispatching the hit squad, Mancuso heads after the name they give up: Renato. Slightly complicating matters, the treacherous money-handler lives with his blind sister, who helps manage his back-office operation—but only slightly.

Salvo begins with a stone cold action sequence and segues into a virtuoso one-shot spectacle, following Mancuso as he stalks through the Renatos’ home, while Rita slowly realizes she is not alone. In a further twist, the extreme nature of Mancuso’s violent presence apparently gives her uncanny bouts of sightedness. It is inspired filmmaking—sort of like watching Wait Until Dark from the drug ring’s perspective. Grassadonia & Piazza masterful direct the intricate traffic patterns and cinematographer Daniele Ciprì captures it in all its claustrophobic glory.

Unfortunately, neither Mancuso the character nor the co-director-screenwriters really know what to do with Rita once he stashes her in an abandoned factory rather than killing her, as protocol would demand. As a result, the midsection gets rather bogged down, before everyone rouses themselves for a respectable climatic showdown.

As Mancuso, Saleh Bakri broods and glowers like nobody’s business. Even with his minimal dialogue, he commands the picture. (Frankly, Bakri does not look Texan, but the press materials say he is Palestinian, so he must be.) Arguably, Sara Serraiocco has an even trickier part, portraying Rita from moments of unguarded vulnerability through her strange pseudo-empowerment. Nobody really talks much in Salvo, but Mario Pupella’s mob boss clearly relishes delivering all the best lines.

Hailing from Palermo themselves, Grassadonia & Piazza capitalize on the city’s depressed, post-industrial backdrops, using them to mirror the spiritual rot of their characters. It basically does for Sicily what Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah did for Naples, but Salvo is considerably grabbier. While undeniably uneven, it is exactly the sort of film that is well worth catching up with on DVD. Recommended as the first feature from a conspicuously talented filmmaking partnership, Salvo goes on-sale today.

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