13 January 2009

Ciao - The Review

I have become accustomed to, if not completely comfortable with, being a walking bundle of unresolvable contradictions. I like subtle, understated things, enjoy savoring irony and bittersweetness, and I'm also a sucker for some kinds of over the top satire and happy endings.

Ciao, the movie, caters to that first half of me, to the black turtleneck-wearing, irony-savoring, bitterness is sweet crowd, but ultimately without success or satisfaction. It moves at the pace of the laziest of lazy rivers, with virtually no music in the soundtrack, and long stretches of out-and-out silence, especially at the beginning, no doubt emphasizing the emptiness and desolation of Hero #1 Jeff's sudden loss of his best friend & roommate Mark, with whom he was secretly in love. He discovers after Mark's death in a car accident that Mark had struck up an online relationship with Hero #2, Andrea, a guy in Genoa Italy, who had already bought a ticket to come visit Mark in Dallas for a couple of days. After reading through some of their correspondence, Jeff e-mails Andrea and says why not come anyway. He does.

The movie is mostly the story of their 2 1/2 days together. Most of the time they talk about Mark, but the film does a good job of slowly building an undercurrent of attraction between Andrea and Jeff. By the second night--before the morning of Andrea's scheduled departure, they end up sleeping together. But this isn't a euphemism for twisting the sheets. The scene is quiet and tender and wordless as they kiss and hold each other close. And that's it. Then they actually sleep together. No sex whatsoever. It is refreshing not to have to say "well, if you can look past this and that part, etc., etc." This was the sort of intimacy even a reluctantly obedient MoHo would enjoy seeing.

The next morning, however, we're back on track with the savor the bitterness agenda. Though it's clear these guys have feelings for each other, Andrea leaves on schedule. Long shots of each walking away from each other through the airport build some suspense--will either one turn around to follow the other? Naah. Not a single backward glance. I guess the writers/directors thought anything optimistic would be too formulaic, or else they prefer senseless, unexplained separations and partings over showing the potential for a happy relationship.

The movie poster is deceptive. Those two still shots you see up above there are the sum total of actual intimacy between these two, and those scenes comprise maybe 5% of the total screen time, max. Other than that, the film is a quiet, slow-paced, nihilistic and protracted meditation on impermanence. Nobody even raises their voice. The subtext is that not only does nothing last forever, but that we should expect people to walk away from a chance for happiness without any explanation. I'm sorry, I don't agree. So much of the world conspires against finding any joy in life that I think if you have a chance for it, you should grab on with both hands and never let go. Sure much of life is bittersweet but why celebrate the pain? Watching those two walk away from each other, for no reason, both obviously not wanting to, was profoundly dissatisfying. If there'd been a purpose, it would have made sense. But there was none. Just choosing to be alone for the sake of being alone, apparently. I spent most of the movie learning to like them and hoping they'd both find that happiness together could overcome their grief. I left thinking they were both stupid.

Overall grade for this movie: shoulder shrug and "whatever." It could have been a lot better.


Beck said...

Thanks for the review. From my latest post, you note that I was infatuated with the premise of this movie... sorry to hear it end so pessimistically.

The idea of finding joy in someone else through a "chance" encounter is real and obtainable - why crush that into fatalistic nothingness?

Oh well, I still like the premise and have hope in the future for a better outcome with my "chance" encounters!

Thanks for the review...

Anonymous said...

Is it as good as Shelter?

Alan said...

Nowhere near as good as Shelter.

Anonymous said...

So far, nothing can top Shelter!