Salvo is quietly explosive, although it begins with a car chase and a shooting that is loud and visceral and brutal. Charged with eliminating a rival mafia family, Salvo - the character who gives the film its title, played by Saleh Bakri - shows no mercy to a young man after demanding and receiving the name of his boss. Having wounded the man in the chase, Salvo shoots him dead at close range.
The victim had run to his own house for refuge. Meanwhile, the deceased man’s blind sister, Rita (Sara Serraiocco) lurks in terror in another room. The pace suddenly slows down and a sinister ballet of hunter and hunted begins. Handicapped by her blindness and inability to pinpoint the whereabouts of this man who may kill her, Rita tries desperately to keep calm. The assassin buries her brother in the soil just outside the window and she hears every scrape of his shovel.
However, the relationship between the murderer and Rita - the blind witness to his crime - is destined to change gradually to a kind of brutal affection, born out of the desperate dependence each has for the other.
This slow-burn debut from Grassadonia and Piazza revels in moral impoverishment and decrepitude, deliberately evoking a decidedly unpretty place. The landscape is as dystopian and ugly as the one in Antonioni’s 1964 movie, Red Desert and the film is equally slow-moving. It’s big on despair and sparse on dialogue and perfectly captures the titular character's moral nihilism, so pent-up with turmoil, that he is unable to eat.
That charming television series, Inspector Montalbano, was based on a series of mildly whimsical crime novels and has done wonders for the Sicilian tourist industry, thanks to BBC Four. Committed to a noirish silence, Salvo is a very different entity. The characters are obliged to live “like rats in a sewer”, as the Mafia boss declares, sipping his bitter coffee in the 40 degree summer heat. There doesn’t really seem to be any percentage in living outside the law, but the players are inexorably locked into a cycle of crime and retribution.
Nevertheless, the light of Sicily comes into its own at last, despite all the squalor. Two garden chairs and a view of the blue Mediterranean play their part in offering some redemptive beauty.
Salvo won the Grand Jury Prize Cannes Film Festival last year, and was nominated for the BFI London Film Festival Sutherland Award for first feature. A hardy little gem, the film can be seen at the Light House.