2 May 2006 | gradyharp
The Dark Corners of Love and Obsession
Writer/director Matteo Garrone has created in PRIMO AMORE yet another atmospheric film (not unlike 'L'Imbalsamatore') that deftly explores the dark side of human interactions and motivations. His style is Gothic in nature but with a contemporary setting manipulated with quirky camera work and artistically designed sets that give the viewer the feeling of watching an experiment in a laboratory, the characters all being bounded by cage-like visual devices. Yes, this is film noir, but Garrone develops his bizarre characters so well that we grow along with their transformations into the icons they become.
Vittorio (Vitaliano Trevisan) is a goldsmith who exists on the modest, long-held family business of creating jewelry from molten gold in the ancient manner. We first meet him looking through the grid of a train station where he awaits Sonia (Michela Cescon), a young girl who has answered his classified ad for a date. They meet, Sonia is pleased, but Vittorio tells her right away that he expected her to be thinner. Sonia offers to return to her home out of town, a garden home she shares with her robust brother (Roberto Comacchio), but Vittorio decides he wants to try the date. They have a little courtship and all seems to go well until Vittorio begins to suggest that Sonia lose weight. They move into a nice home ('the site of Romeo and Juliet' the realtor boasts) and their coexistence begins.
Vittorio is confronted with the needs of his business expanding stimulated by an offer to partner his business from an entrepreneur who insists Vittorio make only heavy bracelets and substantial jewelry in response to what the public is buying: Vittorio has always preferred the tiny, thin, light weight delicate carvings of beauty rather than the bulkier profitable items. The decision causes Vittorio's two old workers to leave him and Vittorio is depressed.
As Sonia complies with Vittorio's ongoing obsession for her to be thin, Sonia's friends and brother tell her to beware of the strange demands of Vittorio, and despite Sonia's hunger for food, her hunger for being loved is greater and she slowly moves toward anorexia. Eventually in the solitary confinement of their home the two come into conflict and the result is a tragedy few would see coming.
The layers of meaning are deep: Vittorio's passion for the thin, delicate gold objects he creates as being things of true beauty are mirrored by his obsession for Sonia to be like those objects. Sonia works as a model for an art school and as she watches the students' works alter her once nubile body to a dwindling form, she feels terrified that she will waste away. Yet her need to not be rejected by Vittorio keeps her starving her body rather than her heart. Throughout this downward spiral of physical vs emotional attraction Garrone frames the scenes in increasingly complex grids, confining the story every more tightly until the ultimate rupture.
The acting is excellent and the combination of scene design and cinematography make this a dark but intensely interesting film experiment. It may not be a movie for everyone, but for those who appreciate avante garde stories and cinematic treatment, this is a film to study. Grady Harp