A premiere of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival (where it won two prizes during Critics' Week), Salvo is the first feature from writer/directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza. Hailed by Variety as a “moody and extremely sensorial debut,” the film screens twice this week in New Directors/New Films (3/29 at the Museum of the Modern Art and 3/30 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center). Before this week’s screenings, Antonio Piazza took a moment to reflect on his debut feature.

Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza, Italy/France, 2013, 104 minutes

Description: In their supremely assured debut feature, writer-directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza breathe new life into the time-honored genre of the mafioso thriller. While hunting down a rival who has ordered a hit on him, the titular gangster (a smoldering Saleh Bakri) invades a Palermo home, only to discover his prey’s blind sister, Rita (Sara Serraiocco), in the basement. The nail-biting, magnificently orchestrated game of cat-and-mouse that ensues, with its evocative use of sound, darkness, and offscreen space, sets the tone for the rest of this richly atmospheric work. When Rita’s sight is restored—from shock or perhaps some kind of miracle—Salvo is left to determine the fate of his prisoner turned love interest. Winner of the top two prizes at the 2013 Cannes Critics’ Week, Salvo tweaks the conventions of its genre without betraying them and in the grand tradition of Jean-Pierre Melville, wrings blindsiding depths of emotion from the sparest of means.

Responses from Antonio Piazza:

On “finding inspiration,” and the origins of Salvo:
[I have a] need to tell stories—stories about the place where [Fabio Grassadonia and I] come from, Sicily. The rage we feel for the problems of our island is the main reason why we make movies.

[Salvo] started from blindness. We were fascinated by the idea of a blind girl meeting a mafia hitman and of something extraordinary happening between the two of them just after the assassination of her brother, when the killer still has his hands covered in blood. The theme of blindness is crucial not only as it pertains to the main characters of Salvo and Rita but also with the relationship between Palermo and Sicily. While growing up there, Fabio and I had the feeling of being surrounded by blind people, intentionally blind. The choice not to see can somehow be [an easy way to cope]. As Italo Calvino writes [in Invisible Cities]: “In the inferno of the living, where we live every day, that we form by being together, there are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.” This  is what Salvo and Rita try to do when they slowly and painfully discover each other.

On working with established and new thespians alike:
Saleh Bakri, who plays Salvo, is a very talented and experienced actor. He has followed a traditional method, bringing into the character of this mafia killer his own personal suffering, especially related to the place where he comes from. Saleh is a Palestinian with Israeli nationality. For Sara Serraiocco, who plays Rita, Salvo is her debut. She was a dancer. Her preparation to the role of Rita was very long and demanding. Sara had to learn how to be blind, which is not an easy task.

It was most difficult to find a way to stage the two different points of views of Salvo and Rita and to intertwine them. The physical blindness of Rita and the moral blindness of Salvo had to be not only elements of the story but of the mise en scène itself. How do you stage the point of view of a blind person? How do you induce in the spectator a minor experience of blindness and what it might be like to overcome it? These were the questions that challenged us the most.

On what's next:
We are currently starting the development of our second feature film. It will be a Sicilian ghost story.