When Jeff (Adam Neal Smith) is taking care of his friend Mark's affairs following a fatal car accident, he discovers e-mails from an Italian man named Andrea (Allesandro Calza) regarding a romantic trip to Dallas he is planning to make to see Mark. Jeff informs Andrea of Mark's passing, but eventually tells him to come visit anyway. Unaware of this online relationship, Jeff is presumably curious to meet the guy that captured his best buddy's heart from all the way around the world. Over the course of the weekend, the two men bond over their grief and the separate memories of the person they shared, forming a stronger connection than either could ever have imagined.
Directed by Yen Tan (Happy Birthday), Ciao is an unpretentious, quietly emotional feature film that sets out to explore the way individuals care for one another and how loss can make our personal connections all the more acute. Co-written by Tan and Calza, Ciao is driven alternately by dialogue and silences, but rarely by events. The weekend it covers is not about doing things, but about two men being together and sharing the absence of the one that is gone.
There is not much more to Ciao than that. There isn't a lot to dissect. The handful of supporting characters only ever appears briefly, including short glimpses of Mark (Chuck Blaum), and the entire picture passes between Jeff and Andrea. Both Smith and Calza are good in the roles, though not outstanding, their lack of polish as professional film actors serving double duty to also be the discomfort of two strangers meeting for the first time. The writing gradually eases them toward their friendship, amusingly pleasant small talk eventually giving way to deeper revelations while still thankfully eschewing showy dramatics. There is a casual air to Ciao, from the minimal music by Stephan Altman to the almost sterile photography of Michael Victor Roy. It's both unfussy and clinical at the same time.
The only nagging problem with the script for Ciao is that, like the acting, it's hard to tell how much of it is merely skating the surface by design or if the writing simply isn't very deep. Either way, it doesn't really matter, as it mostly works. Ciao charms slowly, and as Jeff and Andrea grow accustomed to each other, so too does the viewer grow accustomed to them. The arc of their relationship grows naturally, with the only misstep coming at the very end of the film. As the trailer and the production stills reveal rather openly, the two new friends end up sharing a bed together, a development that is so predictable, it ends up coming off as merely inevitable rather than cathartic. I can't help but think it would have been better had Yen Tan defied expectation here and had his characters keep a safe distance.
Still, it's not enough to completely ruin Ciao. This softly paced, unadorned film is more about characters and emotions than plot machinations, and so the fact that it's plot machinations that ends up being the movie's Achilles heel is forgivable. In some ways, too, it's similar to the lesson of the movie's story, that how you end up feeling is more important than the imperfection of the path that leads you there.
The 1.78:1 transfer is very good. The stark cinematography comes through nicely, with the sharpness of the natural lighting and the deepness of the darkness vividly rendered. The resolution is really good, and I didn't see any pixilation or the like.
The soundtrack is mixed in Dolby digital, and there are English subtitles for the deaf or hearing impaired. Given how low the soundscape is, how quiet the film, the mix is actually really well done. There is no hiss, no contrived "silence," but a very open space that sounds accurate to the reality of the film.
Bonus features include the movie's theatrical trailer and a montage of photos from on the set.
Allesandro Calza and Yen Tan have also recorded a fairly comprehensive commentary. Starting from the beginning and how they met and started putting the story together (including a more "commercial" version of the script), and they work their way through the movie from there. The research that went into the narrative is explored (the internet, grief, race perception), as well as the line between autobiography and fiction, the challenges of indie filmmaking, and reactions to the movie's understated style. Also, the perils of being a cat in a film. The commentary is kind of dry, though packed with information.
Recommended. Though Ciao ends up in some predictable places, this softly rendered tale of looking for love in the face of loss gets to those spots via an emotionally honest script. Acted with thoughtful restraint, the story of two men forming a bond after the death of someone they didn't realize they both shared has a quiet way about it that gives the movie heartfelt presence. Ciao is a noble indie effort put together by a group of artists who hopefully will have some more chances to hone their craft.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.