'In Guerra': Turin Review

In Guerra Still - H 2014
Davide Sibaldi

In Guerra Still - H 2014

Ain't no love in the heart of the city

A troubled young man embarks on a nightly ritual of violence in this microbudget Italian thriller from auteur director Davide Sibaldi

All the animals come out at night in writer-director Davide Sibaldi's self-produced second feature, a lean and kinetic thriller set in the eerily depopulated streets of nocturnal Milan. Made on a tiny budget of around $7,000, with Sibaldi working multiple jobs as head of a three-man crew, In Guerra ("in war") is essentially an ultra-indie DIY two-hander. But it shows commendable ambition with its stylistic allusions to some modern classics of urban paranoia, especially Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and Walter Hill's The Warriors.

Premiering at the Turin Film Festival last month, In Guerra arguably offers more style than substance, which is not unusual for a juvenile work by a twentysomething auteur. More antagonist than protagonist, the angry young man at the heart of the story is also deeply unsympathetic and possibly psychopathic. Even so, this pulpy experiment boasts a sufficiently compelling mix of genre and art house elements to win further festival bookings and possible niche distribution. Fresh from Turin, Sibaldi is currently in talks with distributors and sales agents.

The story begins abruptly with a violent assault on a deserted residential street late at night. Fleeing the crime scene, the attacker is revealed as Daniel Sovrano (Fausto Cabra), a young thriller writer who combines rock-star good looks with an explosive desire for revenge. Returning to his own shared apartment, he gets into a heated argument with his sister. The next night, Daniel takes his mask and sets off into the city to claim another victim.

Deep one night, while prowling Milan's far suburbs, Daniel's plan is compromised by a damsel in distress. Musician Eleonora (Anna Della Rosa) has left her handbag, money and unfaithful brute of a boyfriend at a nearby party and now has no clue about how to get home. Undeterred by Daniel's short-fuse hostility, Eleonora tags along with him on the long walk back into the city, braving dangerous gangs, creepy strangers and even gunfire. Along the way, the pair fall into spiky conversation as Daniel slowly shifts from angry urban terrorist to grudging protector.

Milking maximum energy from a bare-bones budget, Sibaldi boosts the movie's audio-visual impact with a pounding percussive soundtrack, subliminal flash-frame edits and sparing use of saturated comic book colors. Initially naturalistic, the story becomes increasingly stylized as Daniel and Eleonora continue their small-hours odyssey through the urban jungle, especially when they tussle with boy-girl street gangs who appear to have stepped out of West Side Story. In Sibaldi's hellish vision of Milan, the streets descend into lawless war zones at night, where men are mostly savage predators and women are usually prey.

By never offering a full explanation for Daniel's violence, In Guerra will no doubt leave some viewers feeling cheated. Anyone looking for clues might note some teasing strands of autobiography since the young antihero shares his initials with the writer-director and both have written children's books. Presumably Sibaldi does not roam nocturnal Milan attacking people for no clear reason, though that would certainly be a novel way of promoting his movie. After such a relentlessly dark and nihilistic first hour, the final redemptive twist also feels implausibly neat. All the same, this is a gripping and resourceful experiment in microbudget action cinema.

Cast: Fausto Cabra, Anna Della Rosa, Alberto Onofrietti, Silvia Giulia Mendola, Giuseppe Sartori

Director, screenwriter, producer, editor: Davide Sibaldi

Cinematographer: Marco Spano

Music: Mauro Magnani, Isaac De Martin, Davide Sibaldi

No rating, 80 minutes