Love stories can come in many different forms and this years LFF program boasts a wealth of evidence. Whether it be the animalistic sexual obsession of Deep In The Woods (Benoît Jacquot, 2010), the teen transgender romance of Spork (JB Ghuman Jr, 2010) or the exploration of Stockholm Syndrome in In Your Hands (Lola Doillon, 2010), it seems there is an intentional ambition to pull away from convention and challenge our idea of the word and its meaning. In keeping with the theme is Antonio Capuanos' Dark Love, an Italian drama about the gang rape of a young girl and the emerging relationship that forms between victim and aggressor - him behind bars, her struggling to adjust to the world after her horrific ordeal.
Capuano himself, who was present after the screening for a Q&A session, states that the film is very much a "love story" - and this is where most of the problems lie. Although it's based on a true story, it's very hard to swallow such despicable behavior (honestly explored in films like Irréversible, Gaspar Noé, 2002) as the catalyst for a lifelong romance, especially in the glossy, sun-drenched world of Capuanos' film. He's obviously infatuated with the story but the film isn't anywhere near as romantic as the director would have us believe. For the most part the films winning aspect is the mirror held up between the characters. After the rape both Ciro (Gabriele Agrio) and Irene (Irene de Angelis) turn to the arts. Ciro channels his conflicted feelings (love, anger, regret) into poetry and Irene channels her feelings (detachment, fear, intrigue) into acting. The film balances their stories equally for the middle third and it's fascinating to see the film adopt a therapy-through-art sub-plot, meaning that even though the characters are far apart, they feel like two halves of one fractured whole. DoP Tommaso Borgstrom shoots both characters with a distinctively different style, however. Capuano told us that due to new technology he was able to "paint" the film after shooting, although to me this just seems like a pretentious way of describing colour tinting. The opening ten minutes and the colour palette of the prison are bright and glossy, painting the world Ciro inhabits as a positive place - a rehabilitation centre that, under the sweltering sun, provides salvation for the young criminal. The world Irene inhabits is a much moodier, meditative place - an existence lived out in blacks and grays, her distant stare almost as cold as the house she now feels lost in. This ability to "paint" the film is somewhat confusing. The film intentionally passes by any investigation into the crime, any court case or moral judgment of its characters - yet aesthetically it seemingly casts light over the aggressor and darkness over the victim. Perhaps my logic is twisted, but should it not be the other way around? Capuanos' film asks that we buy into a blossoming love (Ciro and Irene communicate through letters), but never positions the characters in a place that we can take the idea seriously.
All of this makes it sound like a bad film. By any stretch of the imagination, it's not - mainly because of the excellent performances by the two young actors. Agrio channels frustration, confusion and longing into Ciro with subtle strokes - a lot of the time Capuanos' camera simply observes his bruised face dealing with the situation he's in. de Angelis is the real discovery of the film, however. It's a (metaphorically, once literally) naked performance of startling power. Her vulnerability and quietness is penetrative and her long stares into the distance (pictured below) are so heartfelt you can just get lost in her eyes. These performances are what hold the film together through good and bad, until it eventually loses its way.
The final third of the film narrows its gaze towards Ciro, abandoning the reflective aspect of a dangerous relationship, and constructing an over-familiar narrative arc for the character. He's not as interesting as Irene, nor is he half as sympathetic, and on his own the film falls flat. After an incredibly energetic opening (a visual and aural assault hard to forget) the story ends with a whimper, not a bang. There's a lot to admire about the film, but there's also a lot to be wary of. If you're able to look past the moral aspect of the film, and entertain its notion of romanticism, then there's an interesting and technically marvelous film to be found. Capuano is a talented filmmaker, but one gets the feeling that with Dark Love, he's become a little lost in his own fantasy. And that's a real shame - it could have been among the best films of the year.
Irene de Angelis in Dark Love (Antonio Capuano, 2010).