Austin Film Festival 2021
Greetings again from the darkness. The symphonic crescendo of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” is perfectly synched with this film’s crescendo, creating a heart-racing, frantic few moments of passion, lust, revelation, and shock – for both the characters and viewers. Also shocking is discovering that this is writer-director Gabriele Fabbro’s first feature length narrative film (after many shorts and videos). This is expert filmmaking and creative storytelling that harkens back to classic 1970’s cinema in a time when it’s certainly needed and appreciated.
Veteran Italian actor Lidia Vitale stars as Roxanne. The film opens on her haggard face as she utters, “F-you”. Right on cue, the organ music thunders over the opening credits. Her bitterness is aimed at the banner hanging outside the church where she works. The words on the banner dare state, “Everything will be fine”. This is March 2020, and Italy has just begun the initial shutdown over COVID-19.
Roxanne is a passionate restorer of pipe organs, and this 1700 church currently houses two – one from 1500 and one from 1900. After a workplace tragedy, Roxanne’s supervisor, Paolo (Marcello Mariani), finds her an assistant who will work for organ-playing lessons and food. Lucia (Ludovica Mancini) is a young, eager-to-learn mute. Her soft, soulful eyes are in stark contrast to Roxanne’s sharp facial features and stone cold glares of loathing. Whereas Roxanne is angry, annoyed, and hot-tempered, Lucia remains spirited, open, and energetic.
Of course, the barriers between the two slowly break down, but the twists and surprises and secrets are gradually unveiled. Roxanne’s obsessions are not limited to the beautiful pipe organs and sweet Lucia has a side to her no one would have predicted. Ms. Vitale’s performance really drives the story and the building of trust between Roxanne and Lucia. The manner in which conveys the softening of her barriers and the re-directing of her focus is fascinating.
Without being overbearing, the film reminds us of the pandemic through Paolo’s all too frequent ringing of the ‘death bell’, the television reports playing in the background, the protective mask defiantly looped around Roxanne’s ear, and the warning that nature may carry out God’s wrath. And speaking of nature, the camera work outside the church is, at times, stunning in its beauty, striking angles, and message. It’s rare to find a filmmaker’s ‘first’ feature so original and well-executed, and that is on top of Mr. Fabbro’s use of powerful pipe organ music throughout. This is a truly fine film that hopefully will find an audience.