Wednesday 14 November 2012

The Sweet Hand of the White Rose (2010)

Director: Davide Melini
Stars: Carlos Bahos, Natasha Machuca and Leocricia Sabán

It's easy to like The Sweet Hand of the White Rose as it starts simply, builds magnificently and ends exactly when it should. It finishes up so well that it's easy to heap praise onto it, but it's not quite that perfect. The good news is that its flaws aren't too important. The most obvious is that it takes far too long to get started, the first three minutes at Bar Zeppelin being wildly enjoyable but precisely nothing to do with the story. It's only when Mary shows up and her boyfriend Mark leaves because he doesn't want to talk to her that we can really begin. Even then, the opening credits haven't quite finished, but we can settle down to hearing about Mark and Rose. Mark is heading out in his car for nowhere in particular, to clear his head of relationship issues, but he crashes because he can't stop looking at his phone. Rose is a young girl heading home on her bike after a fun day in the park. It's clear that their stories will meet right there on the curve.

Thus far, it's been inconsistent. Their monologues are simply written and poorly inflected, as if the speakers don't count English as their first language, even though I'm watching the dubbed version where those speakers aren't the actors on screen and their names in the credits sound British. I'd very much like to watch this in the original Spanish as the actors, Carlos Bahos and Natasha Machuca do everything asked of them, even if young Natasha looks at the camera too often. The settings are spot on, the choreography is well thought out and the camera moves just as it should. Everything proceeds nicely, if perhaps a little too leisurely. And then, seven minutes into the sixteen that this short film runs, everything suddenly kicks into high gear and from that moment it doesn't let up in the slightest. I wonder if starting seven minutes in would provide enough background to the story. If it does, excising that footage would make this astounding.
So let's pretend. As our seven minutes in movie begins, everything is stylish in a very European way. It's dark but we see well by a full moon. A mysterious hooded man arrives at a church and breaks in to pay his respects to a dead girl. The electronic score is overlaid with choral chant which adds to the gothic flavour, while the wind whips up outside so a storm can move in. As he stumbles out into the mortuary to follow a mysterious trail of white petals, giggles and blood, neatly accompanied by an driving prog soundtrack, the camera swirls, the lightning flashes and the stone memorials hem him in and force him on his way. Eventually he finds the girl and with her a bigger truth than he might have expected. We flash back in black and white, then move forward in colour to a superb ending, shot from the right angles, with the right amount of light and with just the right swell of emotion. You'll certainly feel this one as well as see it.

It works without the first seven minutes, but I'm still in two minds about how effectively. Perhaps we should hear the stories of Mark and Rose, but less leisurely and split from the body of the film by a shorter version of the opening credits. But that's just me playing armchair editor, offering unwanted amateur advice to filmmakers who are obviously capable of magnificence. That's the word that springs to mind when describing the style we enjoy from the church onwards. It's very claustrophobic, very giallo, very Italian. It infuses the gothic setting with unashamed emotion, in a way that's very reminiscent of Dario Argento. While I'm not going to say it's perfect, because there are little moments that could have been improved, I will say that I wallowed in its texture. The earlier scenes are no less capably shot and if the biggest complaint I can offer about them is that they're there and perhaps shouldn't be, I'm not complaining too loudly.

The Sweet Hand of the White Rose can be viewed for free at YouTube.

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