Monday, 9 April 2012

Two Films by Davide Melini


Country: SPAIN

I recently received a pleasant communiqué from Italian writer/producer/director Davide Melini directing me towards two of his short films The Puzzle (2008) and the beautifully titled The Sweet Hand of the White Rose (2010). The former runs for just under five minutes, and the latter for just under seventeen, so I felt it was the least I could do to spare twenty-two minutes in the service of independent filmmaking. Melini informs me that he worked with Dario Argento on the abominated monstrosity The Mother of Tears (2007); for those who have never heard of Mr. Argento, he made a couple of good films in the 1970’s which he has since lived off. Obviously Mr. Melini hasn’t read my review of The Mother of Tears, otherwise he may well have chosen to omit that nugget of information. But I’m not entirely anti-Argento, and I won’t hold it against Davide that he had the misfortune of working with such an amateur. His five minute short The Puzzle actually does have a notable thing in common with recent Argento movies; its story is so slight as to be non-existent and it makes about as much sense as sugar on chips. Melini  takes a writing credit for this effort, and to be fair, I think he’s being overly generous to himself. There is just a single line of dialogue, delivered unconvincingly  by actress Cachito Noguera, and apart from this the film almost entirely consists of flashy and self-conscious stylistic trickery.

I was immediately struck by the intrusiveness of the music which was composed by Visioni Gotiche, and this is a shame because the dankly lit domestic space has a certain degree of atmosphere. The film is also not without moments of brief suspense and tension, but time and again the directors need to show off completely undermines any sense of apprehension or expectation, and reduces the exercise to the mildly distracting level of a music video. But of course this is a five minute short, and one would expect underdeveloped characters, and a less than rigorous approach to plot dynamics. But this little episode feels like it is a mere fragment of a much larger narrative, and five minutes is certainly not long enough to develop what is clearly a complex relationship between a mother and her son. The motif of the jigsaw puzzle also seems like an irrelevancy, apart from perhaps having some vague and nonsensical metaphoric meaning. Furthermore why make the two individuals mother and son? We only actually find this out during the end titles, there is no indication in the narrative itself of what links them. The mother’s fate seems unnecessarily cruel if we are to conclude that the son is responding to the mother’s refusal to give him any more money! Perhaps it was Melini’s intention to create all these unanswered questions; it might be intriguing in a feature film, but to have so many loose ends in a five minute short, suggests he was aiming for confusion and opaqueness intentionally. However one must commend Mileni for shooting the entire film in one day and on a budget of 300 euros! In conclusion  almost every aspect of The Puzzle bleeds into the knowing, show off, self-consciousness of a filmmaker who is all style over substance, and in this he does have something in common with Dario Argento.

Next up is the seventeen minute short The Sweet Hand of the White Rose (a title that is worthy to grace any Italian giallo), but giallo this isn’t; instead we have a restrained and emotionally satisfying tale of fate, tragedy, and the supernatural. This is an infinitely superior work to The Puzzle, which is lightweight and inconsequential. Melini clearly benefits from an increase in budget, this one was made for 2000 euros, and on this occasion he has surrounded himself with some talented collaborators. The most notable of which is cinematographer Jose Antonio Crespillo. The contrast between the summery hues of the Spanish countryside and the clammy coolness of the cemetery is expertly rendered. An opening scene in a rowdy rock bar however doesn’t really seem to serve any purpose, and its incongruity sticks out like a sore thumb. It does however introduce us to the main protagonist Mark played with somnambulant dullness by Carlos Bahos. He’s clearly having problems with his stern girlfriend Mary (Leocricia Sabán), a subplot devised entirely to cause Mark distraction when he’s driving on a lonely stretch of road in the countryside. At times plot devices such as this seem extremely contrived, but the film is shot through with a general air of professionalism and a sense of style that serves the story, rather than overwhelms it.

In this regard Melini shows evidence of having matured in the two years following The Puzzle. The twin narratives of Mark and White Rose (Natasha Machuca) intersect and coalesce pleasingly, even if the fate of the carefree young girl is entirely predictable. A multitude of flashbacks are not strictly required, and Melini seems to labour certain plot points; the accident for example is shown from both perspectives, and if this isn’t enough Melini offers a third late in proceedings. Horror fans may be interested by the sequence in which Mark breaks into the cemetery to pay his respects to the dead girl. He is haunted by disembodied laughter (an old trick admittedly, but still effective), and the cemetery soon becomes a claustrophobic and constricting space. Melini almost totally ruins the cemetery sequence by including fairly up tempo rock music, a more subtle approach to sound design would have worked wonders. It’s at times like this where the weaknesses shown in The Puzzle emerge again to haunt the filmmaker as he descends perilously close to the realm of the music video. I must commend Melini though for choosing not to travel the obvious generic route and have the White Rose become an evil spirit out to exact a bloodthirsty revenge. It seems this decision was motivated by the directors own personal experiences, who opts to make the film a cautionary tale about safe road practice, and chooses to unite and recuperate both characters in the realm of the afterlife.

© Shaun Anderson 2012

Click here to view THE PUZZLE


  1. These sound pretty interesting, Shaun. And I just love that title: The Sweet Hand of the White Rose. Certainly evokes memories of the more elaborately titled gialli from the 70s. BUT such harsh comments about Argento!! I think you should watch the Animal Trilogy as penace. Other than that, I hope you're well! ;)

  2. Hi there James - Yeah it's certainly a nice title, not a bad little film either. I'm only hard on Dario because he disappoints me so much. Perhaps my expectations were too high in the 1990's and beyond? Your suggested penance sounds more like a treat, so I can certainly accomodate it :-)


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