Salvo starts off with promise, a quiet opening explodes into an unexplained shoot-out in a country backroad. Contrasted with the silence present mere moments before, the sound of the gunfire is buffeting as a handful of bodies hit the floor and a chase through a construction site ensues. It’s 5 minutes of genuinely thrilling cinema, and would’ve made for a great short feature. But to say Salvo runs out of ideas from there would be a gross understatement. The following hour and a half feels like it’s constantly stalling for time to the point of near ridicule, which begs the question: Why on earth was this a feature length film?
To call Salvo overstretched would not even begin to describe the problems here. This is a movie where what should be a 30 second snippet takes 5 minutes to play out, with scenes dragging on well past the point of ludicrousness. The script can’t have been more than 10 pages long, with our titular killer (Saleh Bakri) barely blurting more than a handful of lines across the whole runtime. Huge tracts of the film are completely devoid of speech all together, over-egging its brooding ambiance in a futile attempt to hide its glaring lack of substance. It’s all very European.
This fundamentally undermines an otherwise old-school story of Stockholm Syndrome and crime syndicates. When – in the film’s pivotal turn – Salvo kidnaps the blind sister of his latest kill, we are presented with a relationship that is supposed to develop incredible significance over a handful of grunted exchanges. Frankly though, it doesn’t really work.
Exercises in minimalism don’t work for crime flicks or emotional dramas, as both of those genres demand layers of detail that Salvo listlessly swats away with its umpteen gaps of nothingness. Scenes that would otherwise work end up becoming tedious, and then swiftly descend into full-on ordeals – a home invasion early on in the plot is at first spine-curlingly tense, but then goes on and on to the point where you’re left begging for it to end.
It’s a shame, too, because Salvo is an absolutely beautiful film to look at. Its grey-saturated visuals emanate a quiet gloom and dread that perfectly compliment its unreadable lead. Add to that soundscaping that would make Joanna Hogg proud and you have a film that’s technically wonderful, but unfortunately has very little to say. These frills are Salvo‘s saving grace, preventing a cinematic struggle from descending into a long-winded exercise in torture. There’s always something nice to look at, even if you are left looking at it for a very, very long time.
Don’t get me wrong, slow pacing has complimented some of the greatest masterpieces in contemporary cinema, but Salvo is not a one of them. It’s a 30 minute short stretched out over 2 hours. And that’s the kicker, even shaving half an hour off its runtime – which would still keep it very much in the bounds of acknowledged “feature” length – could have done the film a world of good.
I’m not sure why Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza (the writers/directors) plumped for such a despicably excessive cut – was it an attempt to push the film’s arthouse credentials over its B-movie premise? Was it just plain self-absorption? I doubt we’ll ever know.
Sure, it’s beautiful to look at, but when all was said and done, very little stuck with me apart from the face-clawing frustration of watching a character take 2 minutes to cross a room. No matter how many pointless awards it won at Cannes, Salvo is little more than a well-shot and artful exercise in time-wasting.
Salvo is the cinematic equivalent of using a really big font to cover up the fact that your college dissertation is 50 words long.