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January 01, 2015


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Valeria Golino - 2013
Kino Lorber Region 1 DVD

I don't know if there is an Italian equivalent to the expression, "to die like a dog", but that is what happens to the people who choose suicide rather than continuing a painful existence with a terminal illness. These deaths are made possible by Irene, a young woman known to her customers as Honey, who provides an illegal barbiturate purchased in Mexico, sold as a veterinary product.

Valeria Golino's film follows Irene in her routine of pretending to be a college student, involved with a married man, her flights between Mexico and Italy, and her dispensing of her services. Irene works on behalf of an unseen arranger, and sees herself as providing a service that has its own rules and ethics. Things are upended when it is revealed that one of the clients is not ill at all, but is considering suicide as a reaction to his own loss of interest in the world. Much of the film follows the conflict between the client, Grimaldi, and Irene, and the relationship, an odd and fragile kind of friendship that follows.

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Golino isn't interested in debating the morality or validity of what Irene does from a greater, social standpoint, but is instead interested in the questions from a strictly personal point of view. The film then is not about the right or wrong of assisted suicides, but about Irene's steps to confront the ambiguities in her life.

As a filmmaker, Golino uses lots of close-ups of Jasmine Trinca's face. Mostly, these are full frame shots, sometimes using shadows, but also partial shots of Trinca's face, as well as frequent use of negative space. I am not sure if this was intended to provide a visual correlation to the ambiguities in Irene's live, but her appearance is subject question, especially when she strolls around a Mexican border town in jeans and a short sleeve shirt, neither clearly male nor female.

The idea of death as a form of travel, of going to a different or better place, is echoed in shots of a bridge, as well as planes flying in the background of shots of Irene. Golino also uses shadows extensively. Irene keeps herself in motion, perhaps an unconscious act to ward off death, scuba diving and especially bicycling. There is symbolism, certainly, but it is deftly integrated within the narrative structure.

Music is also key, with the music being completely diegetic, be it the rock music Irene listens to on her earphones, to the music the clients choose to hear during their final moments. The songs range from Talking Heads, Thom Yorke, and The Shins to Bach and Italian pop singer Marino Marini. Not official, but a soundtrack album of sorts can by found at Youtube for now.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 1, 2015 06:34 AM