Film: "Ciao" from Dec 12 at Landmark Lumiere
[Photo courtesy Regent Releasing; film website and trailer here.]
A man named Mark dies suddenly, leaving just one close survivor: Jeff, a former lover. When Jeff accesses Mark’s email account, he discovers that Mark has been corresponding with an Italian man whom he had met online, Andrea. He was about to visit Mark in Dallas for the first time, just for a weekend (in case they didn’t get along after all). After a brief hesitation, Jeff invites Andrea to visit anyway and stay with him.
Andrea takes up the invitation, and thus begins a very quiet drama. When Andrea does arrive, the two begin a conversation — about themselves and their lives, and their relationships with Mark and with one another — that stretches over the weekend, until it’s time for Andrea to go.
That’s it, but it’s enough, and the rest of the film, essentially, is the record of that long conversation.
Considering how heavily Ciao relies upon dialogue for its effect, it’s unfortunate that the writing is often so inexcusably lame, marred by exactly the kind of rigid, superfluous exposition and unrevealing chit-chat that are a feature of student work. “Here’s the box of Mark’s stuff that you asked for,” Jeff says to the parents at one point, as if it wasn’t perfectly obvious what he was up to, and exchanges such as “How are you? — Fine. You?” seem to open every conversation. The two lead actors, who give remarkable performances, often seem to be struggling against these banal moments. However, these moments are fleeting enough, and the long conversation never departs much from the central subject, this absence in both their lives.
Whatever weaknesses the dialogue has, they are overbalanced by the incredible photography and shot design throughout. From the first moments I was struck by the beautiful composition and lighting of each shot; everything is put together with such a fine sense of composition and lighting that almost every scene had an iconic quality. Whereas the dialogue explores the backstory, the story unfolding before us — a story about the growing closeness between these two men — is told through these shots. At first we see each man alone, each in his own space, then as they grow closer, more and more shots include both of them. In the end, of course, each is left in solitude, with his individual loss. The closing sequence is especially brilliant, in that it manages to summarize Jeff’s feelings about his lost lover without being maudlin in the least.
Ultimately, the film develops into a moving exploration of — among many other themes — the experience of friendship, love and loss.