a review by Mariam Kamish of the film that had its UK premiere in Cardiff at a joint screening by the Italian Cultural Centre Wales and the Iris Festival Prize
In other hands, Più buio di Mezzanotte (Darker than Midnight) might have been hard to watch. But director Sebastiano Riso makes the story of Davide, a transsexual fourteen year old fleeing home for life on the streets, a film of luminous beauty.
A desaturated palette – one step from black and white – defends his young cast from any taint of the garish or tawdry: even their bruises take on a sombre dignity. So sensitive is Sebastiano Riso’s direction that, though Davide’s friends are turning cheap tricks, we never feel repulsed – or distanced by pity. With a great and understated art, Riso makes it possible for us to meet the characters only on a plane of shared humanity and solidarity. He leaves no room for “us and them”.
Davide runs eagerly towards life and there are many moments in the film of untrammelled pleasure. The cheerful intelligence of his friend Ettore, the warmth of his mother and the humour and banter of the streets all lift the film into the light.
There is poetry in Sebastiano Riso’s vision, but he is far too honest to romanticise his subject. A lesser director might have painted Davide as an innocent beseiged, but Davide has something better than innocence. He has strength.
Early in the film, he follows a group of gay teenagers to a porn theatre. When a man tries to touch him, he knees him in the balls. Later on, a pimp – moved by Davide’s beauty – sings “Every man kills the thing he loves” and we think that Davide, now hungry and alone, is about to fall into a life of prostitution. He walks away. Whatever the cost, he always chooses freedom.
Riso’s story telling is lean and muscular, often driving the plot forward through the facial expressions of his gifted cast. He spurns the temptation to hint that his protagonist’s beautiful singing voice will be his salvation, but in the final seconds of the film Davide stakes his claim to life in a manner that will long echo in the viewer’s mind.
Sebastiano Riso is a fearless talent of the rarest sensibility. He is a very fine artist.