Giacomo Campiotti’s White Like Milk, Red Like Blood is an embarrassing after-school-special of a film, completely earnest in its intent and absolutely awful in its execution. With a bountiful harvest of clichés for a script, audiences should stay away.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Giacomo Campiotti
Screenplay: Fabio Bonifacci, Alessandro D'Avenia
Runtime: 102 minutes.
Cast: Luca Argentero, Cecilia Dazzi, Eugenio Franceschini, Romolo Guerrireri.
Trailer: “I just fled.” (warning: you'll wish you had too.)
Plot: Free spirit Leo is sixteen and unconcerned with his future, enjoying football with friends and wise-cracking in classes. All of this changes when he falls in love with older student Beatrice; too shy to approach her but too determined to give up. He is helped along by a new philosophy teacher, who helps him express his frustration through boxing and is there for Leo when he discovers that his beloved Beatrice is suffering from cancer.
Festival Goers? Miss it.
Viewed as part of the Lavazza Film Festival.
Review: Audiences beware, as choosing to see Giacomo Campiotti’s after school special White Like Milk, Red Like Blood (Bianca come il latte, rossa come il) is likely to result in bouts of acute embarrassment and awkwardness that won’t clear up for a few days after viewing. Within the first thirty minutes you’ll wonder in amazement, like I did, at how such a mawkish and lanky directorial effort could wander onto screen and be shown in an actual honest-to-goodness cinema, rather than being buried in an obscure T.V. slot at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon. My goodness this is an earnest film, well intentioned in attempting to educate – I’m going to guess, teenagers? Kids? – about the tragedy of cancer, and the importance of donating bone marrow as well as those first, unfortunate encounters with mortality and death. Based on Alessandro D'Avenia’s best-selling novel of the same name, the film seems aimed firmly at the young adult market – even though it appears within this festival as part of the regular program. The results are, well, pretty bad – like a high school drama student’s best attempt at telling a serious story, chock full of melodrama and clichés lifted from more respectable efforts like Dead Poet’s Society. In short, it is a film that is impossible to recommend – even though I feel like I’m shooting a puppy in the face by saying that. So earnest and well-intentioned is this terrible, terrible film.
What follows is not a serious review. I tried, but there’s really nothing you can say about an attempt like this that exudes the “made for T.V. movie” vibe from every frame. Read the rest at your own risk.
Our protagonist, Leo, leads the charge in this assault of sincerity – at the opening of the film gushing about his love of colour, a metaphor which will be literalised again and again as the film progresses (he literally paints and repaints his room with red or white depending on the drama that has just occurred). Most of all he loves red, like the colour of his crush’s hair, and exclaims ‘white is a colour I can’t stand! And school is whiter than white.’ Oh boy, we’re in for a rough ride. ‘I’m Leo, because I have a lion inside me’ he explains, in what is not even close to the worst line in the film. Leo is down on the adults of this world, particularly the teachers, who are vampires ‘leaving their coffins at dawn to drink our young blood … [for] five hours of transfusions’ – again, another metaphor that will be literalised in the third act of the film, when he gives a bone marrow transfusion. ‘You see? It’s foreshadowing! We’re great scriptwriters!’ the thousand monkeys who produced this script must have eeped and ooked at their typewriters, before flinging their shit around the room (see, I can do obvious symbolism too!). His opinion changes when a new philosophy teacher turns up to challenge the kids and change their perspectives. Yes, that old canard; displayed in full glory here like the directors and scriptwriters have stumbled onto a vein of unexplored quartz full of gold. They find pyrite, and motherlodes of it.
To the dulcet tones of the painfully budget soundtrack, we are introduced via narration to the other key figures in his life – best friend Nico, who gets a slight plot-line with a blonde model whose beauty they’re not even trying to hide behind glasses and pigtails; and friend-who-is-a-girl Sylvia that follows Leo around with those telltale puppy dog eyes, sublimating her love in the face of Leo’s obliviousness in such an obvious way you know they’re going to end up together at the end of the film. Then we meet romantic lead Beatrice – who, like the rest of the cast, is about five years too old for the part she is playing – and some unamusing business with Leo being too awkward and shy to ask her out ensues. ‘I think he’s in love – he showers every day’ his mother remarks, in the pyrite standard of humour you can expect from this film. There’s a soccer rivalry sandwiched in, between Leo and the senior boys, adding yet more clichéd and competing elements, and an attempt at a rebel-edgy graffiti aesthetic that looks far too clean cut to be convincing. And we’re off into the main, mortifying body (ha! See, I can do foreshadowing too! Oh, because Beatrice totally dies at the end so Sylvia and Leo can be together, spoilers, sorry) of the film.
What does the main drama/action/speed bumps of the film consist of? I don’t know – Leo finding out Beatrice is sick, acting like a fool to cheer her up, donating bone marrow to save her (but it’s not a match), the climactic soccer match scored to ‘The Blue Danube’ and interrupted, etc, etc, etc. At one point, the conceit of Leo as Dante and Beatrice as, well, Beatrice from The Divine Comedy is introduced and then just as quickly discarded. Sadly there’s no wise-cracks from Virgil, or a frothing penis tree of blood – which I was personally looking forward to (look it up, it’s in the original). Crying out against the unfairness of it all, Leo screams ‘I don’t give a shit at being understood in the year 2700!’ Funny, because the film doesn’t even seem particularly concerned with being understood now, during its running time. Leo runs to the hospital; his parents get hysterical because he’s been out for one afternoon – and this being an Italian film, they slap him in the face.
Thankfully best friend Sylvia is there to help, ‘I’m lucky to have you as a friend’ he remarks – although it turns out he isn’t, because she gave Leo the wrong address for his secret letters to Beatrice, so she never got them. Furious, Leo sets the bench they used to gather around on fire (?!) and demands she stay out of his life forever. Ah, teenage vandalism, those were the days. Because now Leo is on a downward spiral of bourgeois delinquency – you know, swearing at your parents, talking loudly in the library, and sitting in the disabled seat on the bus. 'I don’t give a shit about all those nicety-fine phrases' Leo yells at his teacher in defiance of his advice and general syntax, concluding 'you see, Dante is useless. You don’t understand a shit about love.' (you read that right, my Italian isn’t good enough to know whether it’s the script or the subtitles going frequently awry) He runs off to paint his room white and brood. There’s a running joke of a fat guy they all keep making fun of; I actually found myself wishing he’d bring a gun to class and prematurely end the film. A dark thought, forgive me, and no such luck. 'Dreams don’t exist, death sweeps them all away' Leo caterwauls to his teacher; 'that’s not true, some dreams go beyond death' he responds. I would have welcomed the sweet, quiet embrace of the grave at that point.
Finally, Beatrice dies; Leo attends her funeral distraught. But not so upset he can’t hook up with Sylvia, who was waiting there for him all along. In a spooky letter from the grave, Beatrice confesses that this is what she wanted for him all along. I felt a chill; not because that was moving, but because the whole mess was so fucking creepy and tone deaf. So the film has its cake and eats it too; in the most manipulative way possible. When asked for advice, our learned and distinguished teacher comments that literature has nothing to say about death – forgetting that the book he was teaching in the previous scene, The Divine Comedy, is almost exclusively about that very subject. Great job, script-monkeys; water-tight. The fat kid finally fits in, and with that we are blessedly done.
Who did the distributors bribe to get this film shown on the big screen? I have no idea; but it better have been the equivalent to Putin’s secret palace on the Black Sea, or otherwise we’ve all been ripped off. Let’s all agree to lock White Like Milk, Red Like Blood in a heavy chest, hire a boat, and throw it to the bottom of the deep blue sea, like a gruesome murder no one else need ever know about.
Rating: Half a star.