Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Forced into Nothing in Primo Amore

“What’s the point of being here?” Sonia asks Vittorio when she gets the impression that he does not want to talk to her when they meet for the first time. This is the question I kept asking as I watched Primo Amore. In this film, Vittorio, a goldsmith, finds Sonia perfect in every way except for her body, so she starves herself to be the perfect body for him. I cannot see why Sonia would go through such torture for a man who never tells her he loves her nor does anything that can be construed as an act of love. Yes, he does ask her to move in with him into a place where they can see the Romeo and Juliet castles. But he is not the passionate Romeo compared to her self-sacrificing Juliet. When he tells her, “Don’t disappear,” the irony undercuts any romantic meaning as she is disappearing by starving herself to please him. In the final scene, he tells her that he will be nothing if she goes away. However, he utters this to her after he declares that she is nothing while she is naked with her head down.

Vittorio treats Sonia like gold not as something of high value but as a literal piece of gold, as an object, to be molded into weighing nothing. He first sees her as gold when he visits her while she is modeling for a night drawing class. The moles on her body remind him of the gold specs arising from the molten liquid.

He makes gold pieces that weigh nothing that he tries to force people into manufacturing. He believes that if he reduces Sonia into nothing then she will be something precious. Unfortunately for him, scraping Sonia away causes her to break down on several occasions either crying, fainting, or sneaking bites of onion imagining it as a piece of chicken. At her final breakdown in the restaurant, I cheered for her as she attacks the neglected fettuccine dish and steals bites from the kitchen exclaiming, “I want to eat whenever I want.”

Vittorio does not seem to desire her as a sexual being as she loses weight. However, the close-ups used in the sex scene reduce Sonia’s body into pieces of flesh suggesting that he desires her in this reductive state. Yet, as she continues to starve herself, she and Vittorio have reduced their physical intimacy to hugs and scant kisses. This makes them seem more like friends than lovers.

Garrone seems to be obsessed with framing Vittorio around straight lines. Vittorio lives in a prisonlike apartment building. He and Sonia walk often down a street lined with street lamps. They also frolic in the woods in the midst of barren trees with very smooth trunks, showing by analogy how Vittorio thinks that a woman should naturally be thin as a stick. These straight-lined images suggest that Vittorio is imprisoned in his straightforward thinking. He can only see what is in front of him.

In one scene, what is in front of him is a Sonia who is blurred (Vittorio is also blurry but not as much as Sonia). His blurriness coincides with his “pep-talk” to Sonia. He explains that he is not with the present Sonia who weighs 45 kilos (99 lbs) but with a future Sonia who will weigh 40 kilos (88 lbs). Sonia appears blurry to show the audience how she is reduced to nothing physically and to show how Vittorio does not consider her feelings.

The impact of that image makes me forget that Sonia had set this torture in motion. In a visually uninteresting full shot, a skinny woman walks by Sonia at the pool. Sonia looks at the woman and then at Vittorio who has his eyes on the book. The close-ups and the blurry images make me blame Sonia’s condition completely on Vittorio even though she made the decision to starve herself. These shots make her look trapped into being nothing. And I am trapped by the aesthetic beauty of these shots. Thus, I sympathize with her struggle to fulfill someone’s desire for beauty.

In the final scene, Vittorio says “Only what truly counts remains.” And I remain disconcerted by this film so much so that I have to go eat for Sonia.


judith said...

I love your last sentence so much!!!
Though I love the way in which the film combines cinematic artistry and postmodern contents (I think "primo amore" is one of the few films that manage to get across theories of torn, postmodern subjects in a highly artistic way), I think it is important to remember that in the end (and you finish with exactly that ending in your blog entry) there are involved and suffering real persons and that the issue the film is dealing with is vital.

AlonsoDelarte said...

I'm not the first to comment on that Sonia going along with Vittorio's crazy diet stretches credibility somewhat. In class, I don't remember who it was who speculated that perhaps Sonia had a history of abusive relationships.

Regardless, and even knowing the true story behind this film, I'm disappointed by the end of this film in that Sonia does not kill Vittorio. At the end of Catherine Breillat's Romance (1999), Marie (Caroline Ducey) leaves the stove on knowing Paul (Sagamore Stévenin) will light a cigarrette as soon as he wakes up, effectively killing him. I saw this NC-17 rated film at the Main Art Theater, and I tell you everyone cheered for Marie taking justice into her own hands. Primo Amore's Vittorio makes Romance's Paul look like a kindhearted gentleman by comparison.

sficano said...

I think it is difficult to understand for almost anyone, on the outside, to look at a situation such as this and think "What is she THINKING? What is wrong with this person? Why does she stay?"

In our society, however, it is interesting that this concept is almost a commonality. Women are so often victimized and when we hear these stories on the news, or see this kind of movie it seems mind boggling that this kind of situation could even happen.

It must be, in my opinion, some kind of deficiency, a sort of disorder that makes these women almost incapable of leaving. They are afraid that it would be worse than the alternative. I think some are afraid of being alone.

I think Sonia showed a great deal of insecurity by even agreeing to have a cup of coffee with Vittorio in the opening sequence. If someone reacted to me the way he did with her I would have slapped him and gotten out of there!

I truly believe these horrible situations are just something that the women need help with and are somehow beyond their control because they aren't completely mentally healthy.

Primo Amore definitely gives a rude awakening that this reality is out there and these things do happen. I feel as disturbing as it is, it carries an important message.

JamieF said...

I agree with sficano's comment about this disturbing film carrying an important message. Watching it I couldn't help but be shaken by how dysfunctional and demented Vittorio and Sonia's relationship was. Whilst I can completely understand and sympathize with the idea of abusive relationships going to insane limits, at the same time, knowing what I do about eating disorder pathology it was very difficult for me to believe she could just "slip" into such a disastrous slide. However someone in class, forgive me for not recalling whom, brought up some sort of condition of the type like mutually destructive disorder, or something to that effect. I could understand that perhaps being a reason. Regardless of what drove Sonia to her condition, it was still incredibly disturbing and very powerful. I think it is an important film to view, whether or not the subject matter is distressing, and I am glad we viewed it in this class.

DMeador said...

After reading both blog entries I found nothing about a certain part of the movie that stuck in my mind. This was the fact that Vittorio is a drummer. At a certain point in the film he is happy that he is able take up drumming again. It seems as if the one scene where he isn’t pushing on Sonia is when he is playing drums with the wire brushes on the counter top. I wonder what would happen to the story if the fact that Vittorio is a drummer wasn’t in the film. It’s very insignificant, but in the film nonetheless. One might see it as a foreshadowing to Sonia beating on Vittorio, or it could visually show the beating he is causing on her mind. But the scenes are non-violent, so it is hard to relate them to any aggressive point of the film.

H Jennings said...

SHerry I completely agree. My favorite part of the movie is when Sonia hits Vittorio in the head with a poker! Regardless of her initial involvement with the ridiculous plan when she does decide she is tired of the situation Sonia takes action. The film has found itself redeeming. I just wish I knew what happened after the blow to the head. Does she go out for a steak and a big bowl of pasta? Does she tell him she thinks he's too fat or too bald? Do they go to therapy together? Or do things stay the same with pieces of herself disappearing before her eyes?