Saturday, 5 May 2012

Michela Cescon in "Primo Amore" [2004 Italy]

It's about time I started the filmography here of one of the more talented young directors from Italy today - Matteo Garrone. Of late I'd been spoilt for choice in picking which Italian film to write about - a surprising number of titles have accumulated in my collection and it doesn't help if the ones you've pencilled for the next post turns out to be a poorly mastered or censored version. But this one isn't, Garrone's 2004 drama had been sitting in my shelf for at least a year and I'm glad I could finally write about his exceedingly well made neo-noire, "Primo Amore" [Eng. Title: First Love], which was also well received along the European film circuit. I'd been exploring Matteo Gerrone's works since first watching this film, and rest assured I'll also be writing about some of his other remarkable ones here soon.

Essentially it is a story about obsession. Vittorio, a goldsmith running a family business meets Sonia, a shop assistant and part time artists' model on a blind date. While Sonia is pleased with what she sees in him, Vittorio makes little effort to mask his disappointment - because when she told him before they met that she was a slim woman, he had built up an image of her that was fifteen kilos fewer than what he sees. Nevertheless, since she'd come all the way to meet him, they decide to sit and chat for a coffee during which he gets more interested in her, and before long he begins to like her for her charm and character. But that's only half of what he wanted - she has an ideal mind, but not an ideal body. "It's always the same," he tells his exasperated psychiatrist. "You either find an ideal body and not the mind, or you find the ideal mind but not the body." Thus goes his logic - if she loves him enough, with his help, she should be able to obtain the ideal body he expects. He will then have his perfect partner and they could live happily ever after. He had embarked upon going down a dangerous precipice, dragging Sonia along with him.
Sonia on the other hand, is a delightful young lady with a positive attitude, content with life and happy about herself. After meeting Vittorio however, it starts to change - and while there is a part of her that wants to act and live according to her self will, it is increasingly overwhelmed by the other part which will do anything to please Vittorio. Just as he gets increasingly obsessed with 'moulding' Sonia into how he thinks she should be, completely oblivious to the harm he's causing. It has become his very purpose in life, even ignoring his livelihood, the inherited business. There are some additional layers to the screenplay seen through Vittorio's trade as a goldsmith - he specialises in making intricate jewellery with the least amount of gold, contrary to proven business sense, and also Sonia's profession as a 'model' - one he could 'mould', etc.

I was about to pen my own built up opinion of how I saw the film, but had to change my mind upon watching director Gerrone's interview that came with the DVD extras. Rarely have I spent so much time writing a review, and part of me wishes I hadn't seen the interview before making the post - ah! for ignorance! Now I could only advise the viewer to take the film for what it is - one that's exploring a theme that's fairly popular in cinema and novels these days - of the human instinct to change their partner into what they want them to be. Vitaliano Trevisan who plays the male lead was initially drafted to write the screenplay. It was his voice and tone that led Gerrone to cast him in the film as well - his neutral delivery even during scenes of tension adds a menacing quality to the character. The screenplay itself evolved alongside the production, so what we see is not something pre-conceived, but organic - inconclusive, and with an open ending. I know many don't like that, but that is one of the features that I loved in this film, this teasing of the audience a la Julio Medem.

Apart from the direction and screenplay, what impressed me were the stylish yet non-distracting cinematography and lighting, the natural, convincing, and uninhibited performance by lead actress Michela Cescon - she actually shed ten kilos during the making of this film to give her character more authenticity, and the beautiful soundtrack by Banda Osiris which also won a David and a Silver Berlin Bear in Italy and Germany respectively. I'd label this film Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link
English Subtitles

Compilation: Michela Cescon
There are several more blog-related scenes that I haven't covered here, including some from the DVD extras with scenes shown from a different angle, but this should give you a good enough idea of what to expect from this remarkable film.

Michela Cescon in Primo Amore

Scene Guide:
  • After their first date, Vittorio pays an unexpected visit to the art school where Sonia models. She greets him with just her smile. Sonia is impressively portrayed by the charming and enthusiastic Michela Cescon, a fine actress who was also nominated for a David through this film.
  • Later that night...
  • They have now moved in together, and Vittorio's desire for her to loose weight makes her more self-conscious of her body and she starts to compare herself with others, taking treatments to become more slender than she already is.
  • A well made scene to show Sonia's urge to gauge other people's opinion about her changing body - in this case the students at the art class, as she examines their drawings after the sitting.
  • Even while Sonia is happy at the progress she's making with her weight loss, Vittorio casts a sceptical eye.
  • A telling scene at a clothes store where Vittorio overrides what Sonia wants to wear for what he thinks she should wear. She could contain herself no more.
  • Later at night in the bath...
  • I've taken care not to give spoilers away in this long but edited scene - a furious Vittorio throws all the garments he bought her into the furnace leaving a naked Sonia petrified and ashamed. He chucks all the food he had hidden away from her, asking her to do as she pleases. When she pleads him to allow her to leave instead, he says that simply wouldn't be an option any more!

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