Fabio Mollo’s debut film South is Nothing remains melancholy and beautiful throughout, as worth seeing as it is cryptic. Following the grief and recovery of a family in a small southern town in Italy, the film is a deft portrait of loss and of anger at circumstance.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Fabio Mollo
Screenplay: Fabio Mollo, Andrea Paolo Massara, Josella Porto.
Runtime: 90 minutes.
Cast: Miriam Karlkvist, Vinicio Marchioni, Valentina Lodovini, and Andrea Bellisario.
Trailer: “We'll leave like my brother did?”
Plot: Grazia is seventeen and facing her final exams before completing high school, but her life is a hollow – abandoned by a missing brother, and a father who does not wish to talk about the absence. Everything else passes by as noise, with Grazia searching hopefully for any sign of her brother in the small seaside town. Encountering a young carnival worker, she is momentarily distracted and finds support in her search.
Festival Goers? See it.
Viewed as part of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.
Review: The sound of the sea washes over the audience, as they are drawn in to this melancholy and mysterious film – South is Nothing, a debut film from talented writer-director Fabio Mollo. That lulling into a quiet submission, in the face of the ambiguities of this film, continues throughout as teenage protagonist Grazia (Miriam Karlkvist) attempts to unravel the facts surrounding the disappearance of her brother. Her only support is her grandmother, a woman full of tragic feeling who relates that ‘as soon as you were born, he saw you and said you where his.’ We can only guess at the relationship between the two siblings, and the events that have torn them apart, as Grazia’s father remains silent on the matter and barely even manages the energy to work at his local fish shop. Placing dried fish after dried fish into containers of water, and selling the result, the audience is quickly informed of the straightened economic circumstances within which the family finds themselves. To this end, they plan to move to the north – escaping the demands and disappointments of life on the shore, as soon as Grazia finishes her exams. ‘If she stays here, she’ll sell dried cod for the rest of her life’ a friend admonishes.
There is not much to say about this excellent film; it is, in the true cinematic sense, more of an experience which is carried along by the small events and the large, submerged feelings of its characters. The symbols within the film bear so much hidden meaning, but the scenes remain utterly realistic and grounded – giving the audience that experience of coming out of the other end of a tragedy, and suddenly seeing even the most ordinary objects with a new aspect. From the opening image of a pair of legs in the beautiful, blue sea to an ambiguous end with the sounds of the swell over the credits, South is Nothing remains a film that doesn’t yield its meanings easily, but only slowly and contemplatively. That alone will put off many theatre goers, which is disappointing as Mollo’s film is a new experience within the common genre of coming-of-age pictures. Much of this magic is drawn from the film’s rundown and rusted setting, with one particular rotted steel structure forming an unintentional artwork against the intensely blue sky.
The film is hard, like a diamond or a piece of coal, and at points it is difficult to determine which it is – deeply meaningful, or glancingly oblique. But I suspect that is because we are, as audience members, not really attuned to examining the emotions a film provokes within us as we are watching it, but only of retrospecting afterwards. South is Nothing skilfully evokes waves of grief, that ebb and flow at the most unexpected moments. The signs of the slow economic breakdown of the town are the same – mostly imperceptible, yet leaping out in a single image. When it moves beyond the plight of individual characters, the film is a sharp, silent cry against a certain sort of Italy in which everything now seems to partake; but that cry, like many scenes in the film, is couched in a fierce silence and embodied in the expressions of its protagonist, Grazia. Kierkegaard is referenced; pointedly, as the philosopher is well known for dismissing our ability to communicate meaning and experience across the void of otherness. Yet Kierkegaard, like Mollo’s film, attempts to do just that anyway – as if from a fundamental, human compulsion.
In a moving, cryptic scene Grazia’s grandmother tells her the story of the young girl as a child, falling into the sea and her brother diving in after her. ‘He searched to the bottom of the sea,’ she recalls, but ‘in the end it was you who found him; you had learnt how to swim.’ And so it goes with grief; unexpectedly we fall in, either learning to swim or drowning. That Fabio Mollo’s South is Nothing can so skilfully convey this message is surprising; that it can do so with such translucent beauty is exceptional.
Rating: Four stars.