Changes and Fascination

in 9th Split International Festival of New Film

by Grégory Valens

A village lost in one of the poorest regions of Italy : Calabria. A life lived at the rythm of secular traditions, the gathering of the elder generation on the village main square, long hours of farniente spent at the window to watch the day pass, and sometimes a football that escape the kids playing to scroll downhill… The storytelling in Il Dono, the first feature film by Michelangelo Frammartino, is made of the succession of these minimal events rather than of the narration of a real story, but it is unclear sometimes if they happen succesively or simultaneously. Not everything is clear, to be honest, in Il Dono. It is the kind of film in which the mystery is inherent to the charm, almost the fascination, that the spectator feels.

There is almost no dialogue in Il Dono. Which does not mean nothing is pronounced. But most of the lines are pronounced for themselves by characters who do not expect an answer, or do not need it. Which does not mean either that the film is silent. On the contrary : most of the sequences gain their meaning from the sounds, or the silences that a subtle sound design reveals – the wind blowing in the trees, the rumbling of a motorcycle, or, more signifier than any other, the ringing (and vibrating) of a cellular phone, looked at as if it were something from another world by the old man who found it.

Between the characters who do not need an answer because they understand each other just with looks and silences, revealing the close communication the old generation may have experienced, and the symbol of contemporary consumerism which is there to signify how our society has derived into one in which communication is excluded, or limited, Il Dono gives a metaphorical view of the changes of time, and habits.

Shot with 5.000 euros, for a total final budget of 25.000 euros, Il Dono proves that it is still possible to direct a subtle and poetic piece of art on film (in this case in 16 mm) rather than with a digital camera. And that the conflicts of generations, the passing of time, the local traditions of a small village in a Southern region can be treated in a slow rhythm without ever falling into déjà-vu or boredom. A groundbreaking debut.