Darker Than Midnight reviewed as part of the 2014 Lavazza Italian Film Festival. Click HERE for screening information and to purchase tickets.
Director Sebastiano Riso’s first feature film, Darker Than Midnight, is an emotionally charged journey, but not one without flaws.
Davide, played by Davide Capone, is a young androgynous runaway. We watch him spend his first night on the streets of Catania, and quickly befriend La Rettore (Giovanni Gulizia) and a band of gay outcasts. This exuberant motley crew steal their food and act as hustlers at night. They form a powerful, unspoken bond and through each other’s company manage to survive on the streets. As the film progresses, we begin to understand the reason Davide ran away from home. Through a series of flashbacks, we see he and his mother (Micaela Ramazzotti, The First Beautiful Thing) subjected to abuse from his father (Vincenzo Amato, Golden Door).
Director Sebastiano Riso and co-writers Stefano Grasso and Andrea Cedrola, based Darker Than Midnight‘s screenplay on the early life of a real-life leading Italian drag queen. However, this is not overtly made known throughout the film.
The film is a performance driven narrative, which doesn’t bode well for Davide Capone’s enigmatic performance. As a viewer, it is difficult to gain access into his thoughts and feelings. Davide remains quite silent throughout most of the film, understandable given his circumstances and life experiences, but certain moments leave us wanting more. While there is soulfulness to his face, it could easily be misconstrued for expressionlessness. Darker Than Midnight is Capone’s first acting role, and that tends to show in his performance. That being said, Capone manages to embody some great moments of emotional tension.
Ramazzotti and Amato are both strong as Davide’s parents. In particular, Ramazzotti’s Rita perfectly conveys her fierce love for her child and the powerlessness of her situation.
The ragtag crew of Davide’s street friends all provide engaging performances. La Rettore’s extravagance and flamboyancy compliments our protagonist’s quietness. There are also some interesting dynamics introduced as Davide falls in love and meets his first pimp.
The cinematography in Darker Than Midnight feels a bit hit-and-miss. There are some fantastic long tracking shots, with Piero Basso’s lens meandering through Catania with Davide and his friends. This encapsulates the world of the street. The film is visually dark. Many of the scenes take place at night, which often gives everything a sense of drabness. This is in contrast to the flashbacks, which are interspersed throughout the narrative. The colour grading of these memories is problematic, as the images seem washed out and cheap.
While Darker Than Midnight‘s narrative is indeed powerful, Riso has left too much to the viewer. We have to read into Davide’s character and make sense of the world he finds himself in, but it’s not just Davide’s character that often feels held back. There are many great moments of heightened emotion within the film, if only Riso had taken them even further.
Darker Than Midnight is an impressive first feature with a lot to say. While there may be some flaws, the film overall delivers a darkly powerful story.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10