Nominated for best first feature at last year’s London Film Festival and a Critics’ Week winner at Cannes, Italian gangster thriller Salvo tells the familiar story of the ice-cold hitman who grows a conscience after fate throws him together with a vulnerable young woman.
Genre aficionados will have seen variants of this tale dozens of times before. What marks out the debut of writer-director duo Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza is the manner of the telling.
Set during a Palermo heatwave, the film opens with a truly scorching action scene – a roadside assassination attempt on a Sicilian Mafia boss that is foiled by hired gun Salvo (Saleh Bakri). The drama that subsequently unfolds, however, substitutes slow-burning tension for shock and (almost all) the further violence that occurs does so offscreen.
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Salvo’s mission of revenge for the ambush takes him to the home of the Mafia rival who ordered the hit, where he encounters his target’s reclusive blind sister, Rita (Sara Serraiocco). After dispatching his victim (a scene we experience from Rita’s unseeing standpoint), Salvo doesn’t kill the witness but spares her, spiriting her away to an abandoned factory building outside the city – an act that sets him on an inevitable collision course with his employer.
As the pair’s initially hostile relationship slowly changes, the film’s tempo will be too slow-moving and its mood too austere for some viewers, but the directors’ strikingly beautiful images and the brooding, laconic presence of Palestinian actor Bakri are reward enough for those who stay the course.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 110 mins. Directors Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza.