Salvo tells the tale of an enigmatic assassin’s gradual metamorphosis from machine to man, taking us on a journey that starts with brutality and ends up somewhere rather different indeed. It is a film about transformations and miracles, set against the back-drop of a dusty but beautiful Sicilian land.
From the very opening scene, Salvo is visually striking and emotionally captivating. I’m not the biggest lover of shoot-em-ups, so to be hooked almost immediately by what is essentially a car chase (albeit an aesthetic one) was unexpected to say the least. There is a subtlety about the scene that takes it beyond a simple action sequence; the calm reach for the gun, the long look in the rear mirror, the white dove on the windowsill. In these little touches lurk small but powerful intricacies that catch your attention in those first few moments and carry you through until the final credits rolled.
There are so many subtleties in this film and yet, from the very beginning, there is an air of absolute tension that remains unbroken, right up until the very end. This is the strength of the film; it is all at once elegant, beautiful, violent and cruel. It balances the strong with the gentle very well and it is in this respect that I think Salvo triumphs.
Though there are some wonderfully developed characters dotting in and out of the story, our leads, Salvo and Rita, dominate the screen time. What could be a cliched, overdone dynamic between kidnapper and hostage is played out immensely well by both actors, the relationship between the two of them constantly evolving and building as the film goes on. The ‘assassin’ and the ‘damsel in distress’ tropes are no strangers to the big screen, but happily they make no appearance here. These characters are much richer than any stereotype would allow, each holding their own, intriguing and complex, making for a fantastic pair to watch.
The camerawork, too, is beautifully done, often dancing smoothly around, circling and creeping, creating an unusual but powerful effect through its movement and enhancing the discomfort in the more agitating scenes. It’s a soft technique – no jarring or skirting – and yet it’s this smoothness, this fluidity of motion, that makes the tension even more apparent.
In terms of storyline, this is perhaps where Salvo falters a little. There’s not much to it. It’s uncomplicated and this works to the film’s advantage to an extent, but there are definitely moments that suffer a little because of it. Slow-pace can be endearing, but there are points in the midst of it all that come across as a little dry. There are no stretching dialogues or complicated tangents, which work well for some scenes, the introduction of Rita, for example, but it also makes for a few slightly tedious moments in the middle.
Salvo’s strongest impression though is just how beautiful it is. There are moments reminiscent of a designer-clothing advert, oozing style and sex appeal, as well as softer shots that play with light, each one is as visually satisfying as the next. Overall it is an engaging and visually stunning film that is well worth a watch, even if it’s just to simply admire the beauty of it all.
Salvo is out on DVD now.