'Index Zero': Rome Review
Italian music video and commercial director Lorenzo Sportiello makes his feature-film debut about a couple inside a dystopic, heavily-guarded Fortress Europe
The title of Lorenzo Sportiello's first feature film alludes to an imagined complex number used by a futuristic government to measure each human being's worth in the world – a draconian decree splitting its leading illegrant-immigrant couple and society in general. But the number might point to something more: made in English and featuring an international cast – the British actor Stephen Merells and Romanian star Ana Ularu, who has a role alongside Jennifer Lawrence in her latest film Serena – Index Zero might as well serve as the prequel to a bigger-budget, Hollywood-sponsored Film Number One.
The open ending, with new, younger characters being introduced as children of a future revolution, might serve as a good gauge of Sportiello's ambitions. The young Italian filmmaker, who cut his teeth making music videos and TV commercials, is probably positioning himself as the new Neill Blomkamp, whose futuristic short film Alive in Joburg eventually spawned the Peter Jackson-produced District 9. Bowing at the Rome Film Festival, where a markedly young and hip audience showered it with rapturous applause, Index Zero should score in Italy and provide Sportiello – who is also credited as screenwriter, composer and visual effects director – with the pedigree to move his career forward.
Set in 2035, Index Zero begins with its two protagonists – unnamed onscreen but cited in production notes as "Kurt" and "Eve" – making their way across an apocalyptic landscape through scavenging, hunting and endless walking. With the woman pregnant, their destination is Europe – or, to exact, the United States of Europe, a super-nation now fencing itself off from intruders and immigrants with a gigantic border wall.
Of course, another type of hell awaits as they emerge – forcibly, caught by immigration police – on the other side of the wall. Soon they are separated according to a sustainability index, aimed at measuring how much each person is of value to the economy. The man is deemed fine but the woman not so, as someone poor and carrying a baby is seen as a burden to society.
Admittedly, all these political details form quite an incoherent mush, with Sportiello obviously trying to wing his way through while clutching at this very idea of a horrifying marriage between extreme capitalism and authoritarianism through stock punch-lines ("Freedom is not sustainable," an official says, without explaining what that actually means.).
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In a way, Index Zero is more about surfaces than substance – but Sportiello has a gift for showing rather than telling when he needs to convey a general picture of that futuristic society and its supposedly out-of-this-world mix of advanced technology and dehumanized urban landscapes. The film was shot in seven weeks in Bulgaria, and production notes report of the production being put on hold when funds were exhausted in the post-production stage. The visual effects are not extravagant but, to Sportiello's credit, remain reliable.
But it's the subversion which will appeal, perhaps, as Index Zero is all about resistance against the odds in a world where neo-liberalism, biotechnology and fortress mentalities are the rules of the day. Casting realism to the wind, the director and his young colleagues are seeking to blow doors open and walls down, and many a hipster film-goer will probably go along for the ride.
Venue: Rome Film Festival (Prospettive Italia)
Production companies: CVC
Cast: Simon Merrells, Ana Ularu, Antonia Liskova
Director: Lorenzo Sportiello
Screenwriters: Lorenzo Sportiello, Claudio Corbucci, Francesco Cioce
Producers: Giuseppe Gargiulo, Lorenzo Sportiello
Executive producers: Carlo Corbucci, Camilla Fava Del Piano
Director of photography: Ferran Pardeds Rubio
Production designer: Fabrizio D'Arpino
Costume designer: Giuseppe Avallnoe
Editors: Giuseppe Trepiccione
Casting director: Kate Plantin
Music: Lorenzo Sportiello, Alex Campedelli
No rating; 84 minutes