At first glance, The Interval is a conventional story: two teenagers are unwillingly thrown together in difficult circumstances, and slowly they come to understand and appreciate each other.
In this way, it’s almost like a cut-down version of The Breakfast Club – if you set that glossy American story in a rundown neighbourhood in Naples, overseen by crime gangs and without a bouncy soundtrack to speed things along.
Chubby, slow-moving 17-year-old Salvatore (Alessio Gallo) works with his father selling lemon ice on the fraying streets of Naples. One morning he is conscripted by heavies to watch over sullen 15-year-old Veronica (Francesco Riso) in the walled grounds of an abandoned complex, filled with a labyrinth of cavernous buildings and overgrown gardens.
The action is punctuated by the roar of overhead planes – at once both threatening, and an obvious metaphor for the escape that the young couple craves.
Wide-eyed, quiet Salvatore and unpredictable Veronica circle each other warily – and with some hostility – in the slow-moving opening as they come to grips with their predicament.
It’s unclear what Veronica, unlikable at first, has done to offend the crime boss, and you start to fear for innocent man-child Salvatore should his young charge manage to escape.
Slowly, inevitably, the pair grow closer and more intimate as they explore their surrounds. With shades of The Secret Garden, Salvatore shows himself to be an animal lover; both of the youngsters, hard-bitten in their own ways, show themselves to be children who just want a better life.
Their discussion of the conventional topic “What do you want to do with your life?” is moving and revealing.
As they day progresses and darkness falls, the sense of dread increases before the crime boss makes his entrance into the proceedings.
Despite its dark themes, The Interval is a gentle, almost meditative experience.
The young stars and the third “character” – the amazing abandoned psychiatric hospital that provides the location – are wonderful.
Gallo and Riso manage to look both old and very young at turns. One moment they are children – barely formed adolescents – and the next you see the shadows of disappointed adulthood pass over their faces.
Director Leonardo di Costanzo is better known as a writer and director of documentaries, and that sense of capturing “what is” shines through. It is performed in the Neapolitan dialect – another indication of the filmmakers’ desire for authenticity.
The Interval is showing again on Saturday (October 26) and throughout the Lavazza Italian Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.
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