VIFF Review: ‘Amare Amaro’, bitter love indeed

Tragedy is defined as a form of drama, based on human suffering, that invokes an accompanying catharsis for the audience. A story in which the characters suffer, and no one ends up happy, and maybe we learn something along the way.

Amare Amaro is, very loosely, an adaptation of the Greek tragedy Antigone, in which the heroine attempts to secure a proper burial for one of her brothersin defiance of the king. Her brother was killed in battle, fighting for the wrong side, and fought to the mutual death against his own brother. This is not a happy story, in case the genre didn’t tip you off.

The updated story, in which Antigone is removed and one of the dead brothers is now the protagonist, has been transposed to modern times and results in a beautifully shot but melancholy picture about the lengths we’ll go to for the honour of the people we love.

The story takes place in a sleepy Sicilian village, on a damp morning in which village baker Gaetano (Syrus Shahidi) is awakened to the news that his brother has intentionally crashed his car into the local pub, killing two people as well as himself. The mayor declares that according to their ancient traditions a murderer may not be given a proper burial in the village cemetery, but Gaetano becomes determined that his brother must be buried there, traditions be damned. Things, as you might imagine, don’t go well.

Following Gaetano around the island of Sicily as he undoes or evades the mayors plans in order to lay his brother to rest, we’re taken on a tour of gorgeous vistas and emotional connections. For most of the run time we are watching the Syrus Shahidi show and that’s not a complaint. He has an intensity that suits the part of the big city boy defying his small town homes out dated rules.

Slow and deliberately paced, director Julien Paolini guides the film toward an inevitable final confrontation that will leave all of the characters in tragic places, some maybe not in the places you expect, but the foreboding that is built as the movie heads there is very purposefully crafted. Look, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that the story based on a tragedy doesn’t work out for anyone.

While this works though, it doesn’t offer much that we haven’t seen before. The pace is right on the border line between deliberate and too slow, and while the intent to say something about traditions and their place in our lives as culture changes is certainly present and the end drives home which side the film is on, I still felt that it was missing a certain io non lo so cosa.

On the other hand though, the whole thing is gorgeous. I mean just look at this:

Paolini really leans into the setting and many of the films scenes are shot wide and saturated with the colours and feelings of the place and story. It’s just a really gorgeous movie to look at, is what I am saying, and sometimes that’s enough.