The Wolf's Mouth -- Film Review

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BERLIN -- There's magic and mastery aplenty in "The Wolf's Mouth," a docu-fiction hybrid that represents a breathtakingly impressive debut from Pietro Marcello. Though running a bare-minimum feature length of 70 minutes (six shorter than the press notes and Berlinale catalog claim), it packs multiple layers and subjects into its densely intricate but enticingly accessible structure. A highly unusual love story between a macho ex-con and a transsexual former drug-addict, it's also an exploration and celebration of their home city of Genoa, delicately examining the past's interactions with the present.

Already winner of the top prize and the FIPRESCI award at the Turin Film Festival last November, this is must-have programming for any festival worthy of the name, and with suitable handling could justify theatrical distribution in receptive locales.

Previously responsible for a quintet of shorts, Genoa native Marcello may only be 33 but "The Wolf's Mouth" feels very much like the work of an established, seasoned master. It can be compared with the likes of Terence Davies' "Of Time and the City" and Peter Schreiner's "Toto" both in terms of subject matter and high artistic merit. Like them, Marcello is fascinated by the impact of environment upon his subjects' lives, and he evokes the cosily scruffy world of the waterfront with pungently colored, high-contrast images from a medium-definition DVCam digital camera (transferred to 35mm), complemented by an elegaic orchestral score and poetic voiceover ("The places we pass through are an excavation of memory ... the architecture of a lost world.")
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These modern-day scenes are interspersed with archival footage researched by editor Sara Fgaier, who deserves particular praise for crafting an outstanding example of the selection and interpolation of multisource material. These poetic, impressionistic montages serve as a beautiful framework for the romance of tough guy Enzo and his beloved Mary, related via voiceover and interview.

Scattered with moments of genuine transcendence, "The Wolf's Mouth" steadily builds in emotional impact and never comes across as any kind of over-rarefied intellectual exercise. That said, it's regrettable that the title is never mentioned or explained. ("La bocca del lupo" -- translated as "The Wolf's Mouth" on the subtitles, though elsewhere given as "The Mouth of the Wolf" -- is an Italian saying roughly equating to "break a leg.") Marcello clearly has no need for superstitions. Whatever prizes and acclaim this film attracts are eminently deserved.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival

Production company: Indigo Film, Rome; L'Avventurosa Film, Milan
Director: Pietro Marcello
Screenwriter: Pietro Marcello
Producers: Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima, Dario Zonta
Director of photography: Pietro Marcello
Music: ERA
Editors: Sara Fgaier
Sales: MK2, Paris
No rating, 70 minutes
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