We begin with a dispatch from Robert Koehler to the Film Society of Lincoln Center: “After a desultory first 24 hours, it took a speedy walk down the Croisette to Espace Miramar—home of Critics Week, the festival’s all-too-easily overlooked independent sidebar—to catch the festival’s first truly good film: Salvo, the debut crime drama from Sicilian filmmakers Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza. A sharply chiseled intelligence is on display from the first, wordless scene.”
We’ll get back to that dispatch in a moment, but first, let’s establish that Salvo is a hit man played by Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri (The Time That Remains, The Band’s Visit). Boyd van Hoeij in Variety: “An extended prologue introduces Salvo (Bakri, son of actor Mohammad Bakri) getting down to business, efficiently dispatching several rival killers that have cornered his car; he corners one of them and gets him to confess the name of the man who wants him dead—Renato—before shooting the guy in the head. The killing is efficiently shown in a bloodless, low-angle long shot, suggesting the action-packed early going isn’t going to last… The pic’s main attraction comes some 10 minutes in, with a prolonged, breathlessly executed scene, shot in one impressive take inside Renato’s darkened house. Renato isn’t home, but his sister, the blind Rita (Sara Serraiocco), is, counting money and singing along to her favorite song in the basement… Rita’s transformation from happy-at-home girl to frightened almost-hostage is simply breathtaking, and when the inevitable shootout occurs, Salvo spares the girl, who would have otherwise been collateral damage.”
Now then, back to Robert Koehler: “The filmmakers’ grasp of on- and off-screen space and sound is part of what makes Salvo an incisive piece of cinema and lends its distinct texture, and this quality is at work in two different dimensions. When Salvo attacks the boss, the camera remains trained on Rita, whose sense of hearing is heightened by her virtual lack of sight. Sound takes over… Off-screen space also works not just in any given moment of the movie’s most intense scenes, but across longer stretches of time…. Salvo embraces crime genre tropes and then stretches them into a new shape, so that old devices look and feel new.”
In the Hollywood Reporter, Jordan Mintzer finds Salvo to be “indebted to Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samurai in both form and function, while revealing shreds of Gomorrah’s third-world despondency… With ace DP Daniele Cipri (Vincere) behind the camera, and elaborate sound work from Guillaume Sciama (Amour) and Emmanuel Di Giunta, the film captivates through purely technical means, and can be incredibly intense at times, especially during Salvo and Rita’s haunting first encounter…. The production design by Marco Dentici (another Marco Bellocchio regular), all floral wallpaper and cracked ceilings, brings to mind the dilapidated flat in the Melville film, while Bakri’s contained, laconic performance is pure Alain Delon, keeping us constantly guessing as to what Salvo’s next move will be.”
Lee Marshall in Screen: “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.”
Update, 5/19: Camillo De Marco interviews Grassadonia and Piazza for Cineuropa.
Cannes 2013 Index. And you can watch over 100 films that have seen their premieres in Cannes right here on Fandor. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily on Twitter and/or the RSS feed. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at fandor.com/daily.