The First Day of Winter

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Venice Film Festival, Orizzonti

Mirko Locatelli's "The First Day of Winter" is a slow-paced, moody feature debut that gets under the skin despite suffering from too many, and too often recurring, elements. Although it feels like a compelling short film stretched too thin and will most likely be relegated to a festival life, the film establishes Locatelli as an interesting new director.

Valerio (Mattia De Gasperis) is a teenage loner growing up poor in a small town in northern Italy. He whiles away his days between school, swimming practice and long drives on his rickety moped. He also spies on Matteo (Andrea Semeghini) and Daniele (Alberto Gerundo), two popular classmates who constantly pick on him and share a secret.

When in the second act Valerio begins blackmailing them to avenge his frustrations and an emotional turbulence he is unable to express, the story becomes less convincing. The Matteos and Danieles of the world usually turn the tables on outcasts like Valerio lest fingers start pointing their way, simply because they can. That instead they succumb to the blackmail feels forced, a ploy meant to enable the plot to reach its dramatic ending.

In the meantime, scenes of Valerio scrutinizing himself in the mirror and driving along desolate roads quickly establish his adolescent obsession with his body and the loneliness of his environment. When repeated too many times, however, the redundancy and dreariness of Valerio's routine risk becoming defining elements of the film itself.

A documentary filmmaker to date, Locatelli chose actors who physically embody their roles yet falter when stronger scenes require more profound emotion. Nevertheless,
De Gasperis, who is in almost every shot, is brooding frustration incarnate. Even his at times mumbled manner of speaking successfully conveys a boy ill-at-ease in his own skin.

Stripped of bright colors, the film's dark autumn tones render the cold of the approaching winter while the tight, claustrophobic photography, relying heavily on close-ups, further captures the small, cramped world of Valerio's mind and surroundings.

Michela Cova, as the younger sister who is virtually Valerio's only friend, is endearing, and Semeghini and Gerundo thoroughly believable as hypocritical bullies.

Production company: Officina Film. Cast: Mattia De Gasperis, Michela Cova, Andrea Semeghini, Alberto Gerundo, Teresa Patrignani, Giuseppe Cederna.  Director: Mirko Locatelli. Screenwriters: Locatelli, Giuditta Tarantelli. Producers: Locatelli, Tarantelli. Director of photography: Ugo Carlevaro. Music: Giovanni Sollima. Editor: Locatelli.  90 minutes.

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