When Vittorio (Vitaliano Trevisan) meets Sonia (Michela Cescon) on a blind date at a crowded bus station there is hardly a spark between the two. Complimented by Sonia with a simple "You look exactly the way I pictured you" Vittorio replies "I thought you would be thinner". Yet, Sonia is hardly an overweight woman, even by European standards she appears to be in perfect shape. Strangely enough the couple wanders off to a nearby café where the two strike a rather awkward conversation. Sonia announces that during the day she works in a free-trade store and at night she models at the local Art Academy. Vittorio seems slightly intrigued as he appears to be a goldsmith looking for female purity.
What ensues is one of the most bizarre love affairs I have witnessed in recent years if for nothing else at least due to the fact that it defies all clichés associated with the term "commitment".
Vittorio and Sonia move to a secluded house in the Italian countryside where the two lovers are to enjoy their relationship. Strangely enough Vittorio demands that Sonia gradually loses weight and achieves purity. He limits her daily portions of food and little by little Sonia begins to lose weight in a visibly disturbing manner. The purity which Vittorio is seeking borders physical abuse. There is hardly any food in the house and even when the couple occasionally goes to a nearby restaurant Sonia is allowed to have only a plate of green salad. Just like the raw metal Vittorio would use in his work he is now slowly reshaping Sonia's body.
There has been a wave of provocative European films in recent years that some find fascinating while other simply dismiss as being a form of pseudo-artistic nihilism. In France Gaspar Noe (Seul Contre Tous; Irreversible), Claire Denis (Trouble Every Day), and Catherine Breillat (A ma Soeur a.k.a The Fat Girl; Anatomie de l'enfer a.k.a Anatomy of Hell) have created quite a havoc with their latest films and it seems like Italy has now answered rather successfully. Written and directed by Matteo Garrone (L'Imbalsamatore a.k.a The Embalmer) Primo Amore while thematically different than the afore-mentioned films is quite in synch with the intense nature of these provocative productions. This is a dark and above all very disturbing film that explores the unfathomable depths of human obsession in a way very few films successfully manage to do.
What really made me uneasy in this film however is the total dedication with which the two protagonists insisted on achieving physical perfection (no matter what definitions you and I might favor). The gradual physical transformation which the leading actress Michela Cescon undergoes in Primo Amore is astonishing. One could logically draw a parallel between her performance and the disturbing look which Christian Bale had on his face in The Machinist. The emotional and physical abuse which Sonia is exposed to in Primo Amore left a very lasting impression on me due to the fact that I can hardly recall a more convincing performance where an actress would do all the little things to make the audience believe how ingenuous her suffering is. Couple that with the fact that the abuse was actually part of a love relationship which the two partners knowingly engaged in and you have quite a strange film defying any expectations you might have had after the opening credits.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Matteo Garrone is a very talented and original film director. Since the release of his L'Imbalsamatore he has generated an enormous amount of expectations between both Italian critics and casual viewers. Now having seen Primo Amore I can admit that the buzz is well justified. While some may find Primo Amore to be a difficult film to endure as it is indeed a controversial piece of cinema it is ultimately a rewarding experience. If in a mood for a very unconventional love story Primo Amore comes highly recommended.
The film is a winner of the Silver Berlin Bear for Best Music Score as well as the David di Donatello Award for best soundtrack (Banda Osiris).
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Primo Amore appears to be PAL-sourced. There is a heavy dose of "ghosting" which is particularly distracting. While colors and contrast are rather well-handled the above mentioned improper conversion negates any positives this film print might offer. In addition, the English subtitles are imposed (they are burnt-in on the actual film print). *Please note that all photos provided in this article are "media-shots" and are not directly taken from the DVD.
How Does the Disc?
An original Dolby Surround Italian track- nothing really spectacular though it would have been nice if the company would have gone the extra mile and provided the 5.1 Italian soundtrack offered on the Italian disc released by Medusa-Italy.
An original theatrical trailer for Primo Amore and four trailers for other upcoming Strand Releasing productions: Who Killed Bambi?, The Other Side of the Street, Head-On, Open My Heart.
Primo Amore is a very unusual film that left a sea of emotions raging in me. The acting is top notch and the plot highly engaging even if ultimately it is one that is likely to spur some controversial remarks (female viewers beware!!). I would love to recommend this DVD as a complete package to those of you willing to explore with some unconventional cinema but due to the average video presentation (improper sourcing) I would have to recommend that you RENT IT.