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An absorbing yet predictable crime drama from Sicily.
At first glance, it is tempting to slot Salvo in amongst the countless similar titles that adorn the shelves of any DVD rental shop. A Mafia hitman takes revenge on the assassin sent to kill him. During the process he encounters his target’s blind sister, whom he takes under his wing and who triggers a soulful, introspective transformation within the ruthless thug. At worst, it sounds like a concoction drawn from the myriad gangster films already out there – at best, it promises to be a derivative of John Woo’s The Killer and Ben Affleck’s The Town. However, a brief look at Salvo reveals the thing that sets it apart: bags of style.
Co-writer-directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza grab the viewer’s attention with a slow, sensuous opening that artfully emphasises the importance of sight through intimate close-ups of eyes, mirrors and long, silent stretches of stalking tension. Many mob movies begin with a signature action sequence, but Salvo‘s opening act is a masterclass in generating high tension with wordless, understated action without gunfire, explosions or an army of henchmen. The culmination of this is a bold single-take sequence where our titular antihero infiltrates the home of his attempted murderer and encounters Rita, the woman who will change him. Unfortunately, as is often the case for debut directors, the rest of the film fails to live up to this bravura beginning.
That is not to say the film lacks strengths. The cast is undeniably good: in particular, star Saleh Bakri possesses the kind of brooding persona that works, lending Salvo a fascinating presence that keeps us involved even as he causes great pain to the much more sympathetic Rita. As the blind victim caught in a Mafia conflict, Sara Serraiocco is excellent – hopefully we will be seeing more of her in the near future. Such good casting and performances combine with the artfully langorous style to suggest Grassadonia and Piazza are a talented team with great potential. Unfortunately, Salvo simply does not have enough story to support itself after the striking opening sequences, and its origins as a short film (called Rita) begin to expose themselves. Most regrettably, by the time the inevitable ending has occurred and the credits scroll it is hard to shake the feeling that the directors’ deliberately long takes are a way of padding an already short film.
Therefore, Salvo is worth watching if you are a fan of the genre and a keen buff of festival successes; for everyone else, wait until the talents behind and in front of Salvo‘s cameras have meatier material to present. They have great potential.
Salvo is available on DVD and VOD from 29th September.
DVD extras include a 19-minute b-roll featurette and interviews with the cast and crew.