PLGFF review: ‘Ciao’

Ciao is a film so tender, so delicate, that the piano strokes that create the minimalist score infuse the story with a creepiness at times at odds with its sentimentality. With a sense of calm that encompasses feelings of loss, anxiety, sadness and uncertain hope Ciao manages to be a love precarious love story built on death. And it doesn’t feel quite right.

After the sudden death of his best friend Mark, it falls to Jeff (Adam Neal Smith) to put his affairs in order. He then discovers that Mark has been corresponding with a potential lover from Italy who planned to come to Texas to visit him the next weekend. After a couple of awkward conversations Jeff invites the dark and handsome Andrea to keep his visiting plans.

Through sharing their memories of Mark, be it over dinner or his grave, the 2 men are able to comfort one another and begin to build a relationship of their own that simultaneously mourns and celebrate their fallen friend and lover. And this budding relationship is a sweet one that tugs on your heartstrings with dialogue as familiar as it is enlightening. It is the delivery that is stilted.

Though both actors encompass the awkward reticence of meeting each other fairly well, their actual conversations ring hollow. While their blank faces could almost be believable as veiled in the profound grief over the loss of their friend, their expressions showed no real chemistry between each other. Jeff’s bad jokes and poor attempts at flirting portray not a man in turmoil striving for connection with another human being, but an actor failing to fully grasp the conflicting emotions of love and loss.

In a classically independent filmic pitfall, Ciao gives up the big score of the blockbuster for few haunting notes that only play here and there. And while silence may have its place these stretches dragged on so interminably I was relieved to hear those tinny notes, as foreboding and uncomfortable as they may be.

AfterElton said it had the potential to be the best gay film of the year. And indeed the storyline suggests that it would be. It is a satisfying departure from the sex-fueled drama, awkward teenage coming out story, or pure comedic farce we are used to seeing in contemporary queer cinema. However, behind great ideas, it needed a great execution. On that level, it’s back to the actors’ studio.

Ciao plays Sunday the 22nd a 7 pm as part of the Portland Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

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