Salvo‘s gripping first 30 minutes – a dense dance of diegetic devices – is both the film’s greatest asset and its disadvantage. Powerfully using the cinematic form to all of its advantages, directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza have you at the edge of your seat for an extensive period of time. The issue is that once that tension subsides, you are still pumped full of adrenaline, disinclined towards the comedown. The comedown is, of course, the main crux of the film – the aftermath of that first half hour.
In a nutshell, the synopsis follows Saleh Bakri’s eponymous hitman. Opening with a charged sequence in which Salvo tracks down the man behind an unsuccessful hit on his boss – a Renato Pizzuto – and murders him. During this point, he discovers Renato’s blind sister, Rita (Sara Serraiocco), who he is unable to kill. Rita has an effect on the otherwise unemotional hitman, whilst one touch from Salvo inexplicably earns Rita her sight back; a bond is made and Salvo starts to alter his ways.
Were it not for the miraculous, sight-giving motif included in Salvo, the story would seem a tad conventional and/or unexceptional. However, the messianic elements and the way Salvo uses the subject of senses transforms the film into a far more complex gangster film. Italian cinema has long been interested in the romantic and ethereal aspects of life (Vittorio de Sica’s Miracle in Milan and the work of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini, for example) – a cinematic appraisal that Salvo wonderfully adjoins. The pacing that alters itself from the heart-pounding opening, to the steady study of life and death is what will divide audiences, ultimately. To those hearing the buzz words “gangster”, “thriller” and “mafia” surrounding Salvo, as well as sitting through the action-laden opening, there’ll be a sigh of disappointment at the meditative main part.
For cinephiles and admirers of the arts, Salvo will be a fitting find. The craft is absolute, with colour and sets neatly defining a moment or a character. Lenses and lighting change for Salvo and Rita, respectively. As well as that there is definition on shape and structure – walls with circular or straight patterns, confined space or open rooms that all deftly underline the smooth or suffocated nature of a scene. Capturing all this is Daniele Ciprì’s stunning cinematography and Desideria’s Rayner’s refined editing – a feast for the eyes. And to top off, audio work and a discriminating regard to diegetic sound (striking due to the lack of dialogue) that are masterfully employed.
It’s easy to review Salvo as a technical achievement, perhaps less so when speaking about its story. Few will feel devoted to the main character, what with an enigmatic agenda and near-silent expression. Rita, too, is a quietly curious character, only managing to shine in the last few scenes. There is little to connect with on a personal note, with the film feeling like a far more sensory experience; yet altogether perfect for the darkened space of the cinema.