Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Gift

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

THE GIFT

2?/10

Il Dono : Italy 2003 : Michelangelo FRAMMARTINO : 80 mins

Writer-director Frammartino has described his feature debut as “a report of a disaster in slow motion.” He’s right… unfortunately. I lasted about an hour before heading for the exit. No final-reel payoff could have possibly been worth the aching tedium of what had gone before. The only reason I hadn’t walked out earlier was that I didn’t want to disturb the ‘enjoyment’ of the four fellow patrons sitting between myself and the aisle. But what I took for rapt attention was in fact bored paralysis – until they shook themselves awake and vacated the premises, allowing myself a direct escape-route. This picture manages the tricky feat of being even worse than Sam Raimi’s tiresome southern-gothic psychic-drama of the same title: it would have been a welcome relief if that picture’s villainous Keanu Reeves had come stomping into view.

The first warning-sign comes with The Gift‘s opening titles. “Il Dono” they read, sans subtitles. We then see various static episodes of life in and around a small, scenic clifftop village. Most of them feature a very old man played by an ‘actor’ named Michelangelo Frammartino. This isn’t the director – it’s his nonagenarian father, though, typically, there’s no way of knowing this from the film itself. The old man’s dog dies and is buried by a pair of young handymen. One of them leaves his mobile phone behind. This perplexes the oldster when it rings, vibrating across his wooden dining table. The lads also leave behind a pornographic photograph. This intrigues the oldster. Meanwhile a parallel “plot” takes shape involving a promiscuous young woman who seems to be mentally subnormal. It’s suggested that these two strands will probably come together at the end, though of course any ‘meaning’ will be left vague.

window (undressing) in The GiftThe film’s status as inscrutable enigma is bolstered by a total lack of subtitles. But it isn’t true to say there’s no dialogue. We do hear voices – singing, laughing. But the people responsible are kept carefully off-screen. Frammartino instead foregrounds individuals who communicate via meaningful looks when they aren’t sitting, stony-faced and silent, seemingly defeated by life. It the similar kind of offensive nonsense also found in Cuban award-winner Havana Suite, in which garrulous folk are rendered artifically mute for the purposes of Art: despite his title Frammartino doesn’t give – he robs them of their voice.

This technique isn’t always a recipe for trouble – Hungarian variant Hukkle also contrived to get by without dialogue, but did so by placing the human participants in a dazzlingly strange world of animal activity. Frammartino doesn’t “give” his audience very much at all, apart from one sub-Ioseliani sight-gag involving a child’s ball bouncing down the village’s steep streets to fall down off the cliffs. Elsewhere, he seems to think that any mundane activity, if performed sufficiently slowly and filmed in a sufficiently long take, is somehow magically transformed into something artistically valid and worthy of our attention. His ideas are thoroughly second-hand, from the old codger savouring his solitary meal to the beautiful young woman who’s too simple-headed to resist any sexual advance – a classic misogynistic stereotype. Frammartino is a fine example of the pseudo-artists who profit from the lax systems by which supposedly highbrow works are funded and then programmed at film festivals. As a gallery installation, The Gift might just possibly pass muster. But presenting it in a cinema to the paying public is nothing less than an insult.

15 September, 2004
(seen 21st August FilmHouse Edinburgh : public show [walkout]: – Edinburgh Film Festival)

click HERE for our full coverage of the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival

For other films rated 1/10 and 2/10 check out our Diorama of Dishonour

by Neil Young