Dir. Fabio Grassadonia/Antonio Piazza. Italy. 2013.

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First seen on these shores during the 2013 London Film Festival when nominated for the prestigious Sutherland Trophy for debut feature film.  Salvo is visceral and dynamic bow by Italian pair Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza gains a theatrical release from Peccadillo Pictures on 21st March.

Salvo (Saleh Bakri) is the name of a Mafia hit-man in Sicily, Italy who is one of the best in the business as seen by the opening sequence when he takes out would-be aggressors.  His next big job involves him killing a rival clan.  During the job, he encounters a blind girl, Rita (Sara Serraiocco) who stands innocently by as Salvo kills her brother.  What follows is a morality tale between the two during intense exchanges, as Salvo becomes aware of his life's work and Rita becomes accustomed to her captor who spares her life and for both the journey together becomes one about redemption.

Shot on location in their hometown of Palermo, the directing duo bring a real sense of place and location to the action helped by growing up in the vicinity of the action.  The Mafia in Sicily is so prevalent to everyday life, the pair knowingly incorporate the myth and legend of the mafia into the story; the fear they hold over all who they surround is paramount.

Tellingly though, for a generic film of Mafia's built around the tropes of violence and action this film is slighter and softer; the eponymous hit-man is very methodical and deliberate in his actions which helps create an aura of mystique about him and a world of enclosure.
Bakri's performance of near muteness is a wonder here, his towering presence helping establish the solitary individual in his role; reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's famous Man with no Name and even Javier Bardem's performance as Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

It is rare for a first time film to take such care in the construction of an aural landscape, the use of a particular Italian song when Salvo first intrudes Rita's house is a cleverly harked back to by the film's conclusion.

The sound design by Guillaume Sciama is exemplary and the script by Grassadonia and Piazza is first rate, conveying a sense of purpose for the lead characters without resorting to cheap narrative tricks and treating an audience with as much respect as they pay to their characters along with the situation they find themselves in.

Calling cards carry bombast, however the Italian pair have taken great pains to facilitate the world of isolation that both Salvo and Rita find themselves in; and the deliberate disruption of audience in terms of aurality and seeing and not seeing pays dividends.  Debuts can be clever, but rarely are they as intelligent and immersive as this.

Jamie Garwood

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