'Banat (Il viaggio)': Tirana Review

Banat Still 1 - H 2015
Courtesy of EZ Films
Beautifully shot, emotionally nuanced rites of passage.

Adriano Valerio's debut feature revolves around two young Italians trying to settle into their new lives in a Romanian village.

The subtitle says it all. Despite being set mostly in the southeastern Romanian region which constitutes the film's main handle, Italian helmer Adriano Valerio's first feature is as much about its protagonists' journey as it is about their destination. Revolving around the struggle for two young Italians in starting their lives anew, Banat (Il viaggio) is a slow-burning, delicate vehicle in which angst and alienation is dressed up in a very warm and evocative hue — with the visual poetry punctuated by nods about the harsh economic realities at the fringes of Europe today.

Mixing its nuanced representations of confusion and loss with a smattering of dark humor, Barat is an engaging piece in which Valerio strives to steer clear from becoming merely cultural-clash exotica. Having already chalked up some miles after its debut in September at the Critics' Week sidebar in Venice — among its recent festival circuit stops are Busan, Warsaw and Tirana, with imminent bows at Kolkata and Goteborg — Barat will probably be on the road as much as Valerio's previous outing, the critically-acclaimed short 37°4 S.

Read More ‘Alaska’: Rome Review

Barat begins in Bari, Italy, in which Ivo (Edoardo Gabbriellini), an agronomist who couldn't get a relevant job on home turf, is preparing to vacate his rented apartment and take up a capacity overseeing a farm in rural Romania. As he packs, he strikes up a friendship with the new tenant, Clara (Elena Radonicich), who is moving in after breaking up with her partner. The bond they are to nurture soon blossoms into a real relationship as Clara loses her job and decides to visit Ivo. Intimacy aside, the pair are soon forced to confront bigger social forces at play, as their different modes of working — Ivo with his understanding of modern economics, Clara with her artisan's know-how — are employed to help Ivo's employer Ion (Stefan Velniciuc) from financial ruin.

Just like in 37°4 S, in which a teenage couple on the British-ruled Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha reflects on their imminent separation as one of them decides to leave for the U.K., melancholy and sometimes outright gloom abounds in Barat. That's perhaps Valerio's point: mirroring his last outing, where angst stems from confinement to a small land mass, he is implying here that the freedom to roam may only lead to an endless, Sisyphean pursuit of an unattainable or unknown closure.

It's a case of seeking and not finding — and Barat doesn't offer feel-good drama, as barns burn and fights are lost. Then again, this is Valerio's representation of the oft-contradicting, ambiguous nature of reality: and Jonathan Ricquebourg's camerawork has contributed a lot in balancing warm human hues with the greens and grays signifying the daunting challenges the young couple faces in Romania. Gabbriellini and Radonicich also deliver performances mixing joy and anxiety, combining some glee at life's small mercies with a resignation to fate when misfortune strikes. 

Venue: Tirana International Film Festival

Production company: Movimento Film, Rai Cinema

Cast: Edoardo Gabbriellini, Elena Radonicich, Piera Degli Esposti, Stefan Velniciuc, Ovanes Torosian

Director: Adriano Valerio

Producers: Mario Mazzarotto, Emanuele Nespeca, with Ivan Tonev, Dimitar Nikolov, Ada Solomon

Screenwriters: Adriano Valerio, Ezio Abbate

Director of photography: Jonathan Ricquebourg

Production designers: Adrian Cristea, Maria Teresa Padula

Costume designers: Sabrina Beretta, Angela Tomasicchio

Editor: Catalin Cristutiu

Music: Assen Avramov

International Sales: EZ Films

In Italian and English

No rating; 82 minutes