Matteo Garrone’s Primo amore (2004) has been described as “a horror movie about desire,” which seems fitting. Often, the scenes depicted are horrifying and alarming. The director takes an uncomfortably close look at obsessive love, further complicated by the troubled characters’ various psychological issues. When the two protagonists, Vittorio and Sonia, meet for the first time this becomes rather obvious. Some of Vittorio’s first words to Sonia are “I thought you’d be thinner.” Her reaction is troubling; although she seems somewhat stunned by his comment and feigns a desire to leave, she continues to entertain his conversation at the cafe and goes on to take a walk with him. The most obvious disorder of course is Sonia’s developing anorexia nervosa, at Vittorio’s insistence. However, it is important to look at the other factors which contribute to this obsessive, stomach-turning love story. I found it difficult to diagnose each character as having one category of psychological disorder, as they seem to suffer from symptoms of several including but not exclusive to borderline and obsessive compulsive personality disorders, shared psychotic disorder, masochism, and sadism. The extent to which each character is affected by these disorders offers them a chance for more sympathy from the viewer, for perhaps they must give in to their desires and urges without thinking of consequence or how they affect the people around them. For example, Sonia has an emotional outburst at a boutique, and the film depicts the action in medium shots, until the salesgirl attempts to comfort Sonia. The camera then moves into a tight close up of the three characters, and it seems as if the salesgirl gets sucked into the toxic bubble (of obsession, co-dependence, masochism, and sadism) around Vittorio and Sonia. Descriptions of these disorders may be found at www.mentalhealth.com.
Viewer as Voyeur
Several of the techniques employed by the director give the viewer a strong sense of voyeurism. This is a concept usually reserved for those who are aroused by watching other people in sexual acts, according to Wikipedia. However, the word voyeur can describe someone who receives pleasure by witnessing other people’s suffering or misfortune. This definition can describe Vittorio, yet he not only witnesses, he participates in Sonia’s misfortune. Although the film is unpleasant to watch, as the two protagonists have such deeply rooted psychological issues, as a viewer I felt intrigued. There are several reoccurring shot techniques, which allowed me to feel this voyeuristic thrill. First, there are many shots (long, medium, and close-up) in which the action is framed through a hallway or doorway, for example the scene in which Vittorio visits his doctor. As he stands behind a doorway, the viewer may get a sense of being left out somehow and more curious about what is occurring. Second, there are scenes that are shot in high angles, which make the viewer feel above the subject. Next, there are the numerous, often awkward, over-the-shoulder shots. Finally, there are those seemingly hand-held shots, such as those used in the scene where Vittorio searches for Sonia in the woods. These aspects all strongly suggest a voyeur’s perspective for the viewer to assume.
Grates, fences, bars across windows and doors: trapped
As the film develops, the viewer acquires a strong sense of being trapped. Many visual aspects within the mis-en-scene including grates, fences, windowpanes, and walls contribute to this feeling. The apartment Vittorio occupied before he and Sonia move into the house was especially confining. After the couple’s first sexual encounter, Sonia meanders onto Vittorio’s porch where they have a strained conversation; the scene ends with Sonia grabbing onto the metal bars that surround the porch in a manner reminiscent of a prisoner grabbing onto a jail cell’s bars. Through cinematography, Sonia’s skeleton even seems as if it entraps her, her sense of self, and her soul even. As her weight recedes, these parts of her leak out until her bones are surrounding nothingness. In contrast to these confining structures, images of the green forest surrounding the house are used to depict life and freedom. The recurring juxtaposition of shots outside against the foliage, complimented by wildlife sounds, against those of the restrictive indoors led me to the conclusion that the only option for life would be outside. Although Sonia’s mind slipped away with her body, she seems to realize this in the end scene where Vittorio has her backed up against a wall (literally and figuratively). Once she takes the only seemingly viable action, the camera gradually moves out to show Sonia crouched just outside the door in the forest among the trees. Perhaps now she may finally return to join the living, and not the walking dead. Though the scene ends in darkness, there is some comfort to the darkness of the forest. As viewers, we are finally freed.
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