Name: Diana Mereoiu
A blonde beauty’s blue eyes stare at her boyfriend, as colourful lights play across her face, her rose-red lips mouthing the lyrics of “Se ti amo, ti amo”. She is being playful just as much she is declaring her feelings and saying goodbye. The words of the song speak on her behalf and the couple knowingly ignores the more overtly sentimental meaning of what is happening.
The scene perfectly captures Adriano Valerio’s approach in Banat his debut in feature film. It is a gamble the director takes, a gamble against the audience’s cinematic saturation. Once the bets are set, it takes time for the wins and losses to be declared, as the film has the peculiar quality of gradually charming its viewers though simple yet not simplistic means. With surprising flair, he manages to render fresh what we might have seen before.
The only Italian film in the Film Critics’ Week section of Venice, Banat follows two Italian 30-something year olds, exponents of a generation stuck on road in-between destinations. Iva (played with genuineness by Edoardo Gabbriellini) and Clara (a magnetic Elena Radonicich) meet by chance in the apartment that he is leaving to take up a job in Romania and she is moving into. Fuelled by confusion and an instinctive desire to run away, Clara shortly follows him to Romania, thus starting a bittersweet journey marked by lyrical moments of connection, alienation and a healthy dose of gags.
Those who know Valerio’s previous work (the short film 37°4 S won a Special Jury Mention at Cannes 2013) are already familiar with the director’s ability to capture the rawness of vulnerability and the dynamics of human personality in relation to the environment. Yet again, he proves his prowess in portraiture, offering candid photograph-like glimpses into the personal universe of his characters, be they leading or just mentioned in passing. The filmmaker has the skill to bridge the gap between the characters and us, creating instant, even though fleeting moments of empathy.
This sense of empathy that resonates throughout the feature is achieved to a great degree thanks to the flattering lighting and colour scheme. Watching the characters is like watching someone you love. You are very much present in the moment, but at the same time outside it, relishing the most common, yet expressive details of their faces. The intimacy grows deeper due to space and framing. Close-ups are obviously great tools in this regard, but it is truly the way in which they are linked with wider shots also including the surrounding landscape that impresses.
Distance is evidently fundamental to the story and is the main obstacle to surmount. Instead of it being overcome merely through plot progression, it is also erased through editing and music. The songs leak from one frame to another regardless of the fact that one is set in Italy and the other in Romania. Similarly, the spaces, as well as the different frames of the film, are in continuous dialogue. The director returns to some locations, filming them in the same way though at different points of the movie’s progression to create visual parallelisms and mark how far our protagonists have come.
Akin to what the characters might feel, it sometimes seems like the only reality that exists and the only thing that matters is that contained within the frame (which makes for beautiful moments of intimacy), that whenever someone leaves the confines of the screen he is gone forever. But the next shot, from outside the building where the action just took place or from a wider angle that encircles the magnificent natural environment, comes to remind of the life beyond the casing. You just need to take it one frame at a time.
"Banat" by Adriano Valerio (ITA/FR)
Venice Film Festival 2015 - Critics' Week