JDIFF Review – Salvo

Salvo (Saleh Bakri) is a Sicilian hit man who, when a hit goes wrong, finds himself hiding out in his enemy’s home, waiting for a chance to take his revenge. However, Salvo’s target has a blind sister (Sara Serraiocco), a complication that the seemingly steely hit man cannot bring himself to take care of.

In terms of story, there is not a huge amount going on in Salvo; fear turns to tenderness and tenderness to something bordering on love – or Stockholm Syndrome – as Salvo and Rita spend more time together. Of course, a small miracle helps matters.

As the title character, Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri ably carries the film, bringing an air of menace, mystery and a touch of curiosity to the film. Bakri shows Salvo as a man with more going on underneath the surface than the stereotypical mob lackey, it is just a shame that we never really learn much about the character who the film is named after. In his interactions with Serraiocco, Bakri balances rage, fear and fascination and in turn, Serraiocco brings a tenderness and strength to her role.

Writer/directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza previously collaborated on a short film called Rita, which focuses on a blind girl who shelters a boy on the run; it does not seem a coincidence that Salvo works as a companion piece and expansion of this concept. Grassadonia and Piazza ramp up the tension in their film; the opening sequence where Salvo trails Rita around her home is a rather special 10 minute tracking shot, beautifully done, which ramps up the tension and fear, although there are times when this begins to feel like a horror film, instead of a thriller. There are many plot holes in the film, not least the divine intervention, which means that instead of a suspenseful masterpiece, Salvo feels like a film that is based on an image and not expanded much further than this.

The cinematography of the film is claustrophobic and dark, reinforcing the notion that both of these characters find themselves hiding and hidden. When light finally does stream in, it is to make the Sicilian countryside feel like a Western, complete with dust blowing in the air and disused spaces, which feels like a nod to the John Huston films of old.

Salvo is an interesting concept for a film that doesn’t always pay off. The two halves of the film, and the two roles the characters each slip into, don’t always marry together as they should. That said, the cinematography and performances of the film are stand out, it’s just a shame these are let down by an interesting story told in a dull and plotholey manner.

Rating: 2/5

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