Director: Yen Tan
Starring: Adam Neal Smith, Alessandro Calza, Charles W. Blaum, Ethel Lung
Distributor: Unautorized Films
Genre: Indie, LGBT
Country of Origin: USA
Release Date: 2008
Length: 87 min
Amazon: Buy Link Ciao(DVD)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: A quiet, thoughtful tale of friendship and love, shared sorrow and new beginnings.
Synopsis (from the official Ciao movie homepage): A man dies very unexpectedly and leaves behind two men: Jeff, his best friend, and Andrea, an Italian he’s been corresponding with online. Jeff informs Andrea of Mark’s passing; Andrea writes back to express his shock and sympathies. On a whim, they continue their correspondence and a rapport grows between them. They eventually meet, where they extend their e-mail exchanges into more personal and intimate conversations. They talk about their respective countries, their jobs, their families, their lives. Mostly, they talk about Mark. What began as a tragedy that linked two strangers from different ends of the world becomes a deeply realized friendship that may change their lives forever.
The Review: On the morning of a perfectly normal day, Mark ate breakfast, watered his plants, then he left his house, got into his car and died in an accident a few minutes later.
The movie begins with Mark’s friend Jeff, who took the task of notifying Mark’s email contacts of his demise. In the process, he finds out about a month-long online correspondence between Mark and an Italian man, Andrea. In fact, by the time of Mark’s death, the relationship had thrived to a point where Andrea was about to visit with Mark, ticket bought and trip planned and all. Long story short, as it says in the synopsis, Jeff ends up encouraging Andrea to go through with his plans, and Andrea accepts.
The Italian greeting “ciao” translates to “hello” as well as “goodbye”, and as a denominator, it fits this movie perfectly. As does the tagline “every ending is a new beginning”.
Jeff and Mark go way back. They’re both gay, but they never were more than “just” friends. At least on Mark’s side; from the very beginning it’s clearly visibly that Jeff’s grief and loss go deeper than that.
With Andrea’s visit, a new element enters the relationship between Jeff and Mark. Jeff thought he knew his childhood friend inside out. But through Andrea’s eyes, Jeff gets to know a side of Mark he never saw. In a way, Andrea knew Mark better than Jeff did–they were close, and even at a distance and only virtually, they were lovers. Sexually intimate too, something that Jeff and Mark never shared. On the other hand, Andrea never got to meet Mark in person, so his own loss is different, more removed than Jeff’s. Which enables him to connect with Jeff, and to offer him a kind of comfort that Jeff’s own family and friends, sympathetic as they are, never could.
Almost from the moment Andrea and Jeff meet, a tentative bond starts forming between them. Unsurprisingly, they’re a bit awkward at first–they’re virtual strangers, after all, with only Mark as their link. But as they spend time together reminiscing about Mark and getting to know each other, a tentative friendship starts to grow that exceeds sharing a mutual loss.
The chemistry between the two main characters is palpable right from the beginning. It is subtle, shown in surreptitious looks and half-abandoned touches, in tones of voice and silences rather than actual words. Even though they talk a lot, the most important things between them happen through simple gestures that are all the more intense for doing without words. A certain underlying erotic tension arises, but never once turns obtrusive; even at the end, the movie doesn’t give us all the answers as to what it is, this thing between Andrea and Jeff that developed over a weekend of shared memories. Is it affection, friendship, love, even? All the movie gives us is hope at a new beginning, but sometimes, hope is enough.
The main focus of the camera is mostly on the faces, with the background often fading to insignificance. Expressions gain center stage, bringing out Adam Neal Smith’s and Alessandro Calza’s masterful acting. I bought every minute of Jeff’s (Smith) bereavement and subdued grief, I suffered through his renewed loss with him and took with him a tentative hope from Andrea’s gentle, unreserved kindness. Calza, on the other hand, aside from being drop-dead gorgeous (look at the pictures and dare tell me he’s not!) gave his screen character Andrea just the right amount of boldness for one who’d take a trip halfway around the world for an adventurous weekend, but there was also a deep longing for something more lasting and compassion enough to make Andrea the perfect supportive friend for Jeff. Accentuating the overall calmness of this movie, the soundtrack was subdued; several scenes went entirely without background music.
Generally, this movie lives off minimalism and subtlety. Undertones prevail, creating an overall mood of melancholy that fits the theme perfectly. It’s the character’s emotions that matter, but they fully make up for the fact that nothing much happens during the weekend which Andrea and Jeff spend together. They meet, get to know each other a little, and separate again. An unexcited, plain story, told in hauntingly touching, stark pictures. The masterful cinematography and the simple yet eternal truths this movie transports rendered the gender of its main protagonists irrelevant; it was simply a heartbreakingly beautiful story of love and loss and new beginnings.
I don’t have enough html-fu to make the movie trailer appear in the post, so for those who want a sample of this wonderful movie, here is the youtube link.