It’s easy to forget the malleability of truth...
...Even the things we accept as unquestionable fact, we do so because we were taught to. Almost nothing is entirely straightforward and one-sided, though. Mostly, truths are prismatic and shifting depending on perspective, and on who’s doing the teaching. Writer/director Emanuela Rossi explores this idea with co-writer Claudio Corbucci with her debut film Darkness aka Buio, which recently made its U.S. Premiere at Nightstream Film Fest.
Worldwide natural disaster films are striking a bit of a different chord under our current circumstances. Many of us, particularly in America, are still managing under lockdown guidelines. We only leave our houses when absolutely necessary, and when we do, we must go out with face coverings to protect ourselves and others. Darkness operates under a similar setup, just replace a widespread virus with a solar phenomenon and six months with an unknown number of years. Such similarities allow for quicker connection with the film’s narrative and predispose us to believe those who tout the dangers of outside exploration, making the story stronger by default. Darkness is effective in connecting us with the basic idea of the story such that we don’t really need exposition about how or why the family is in the situation we find them. But it is also about much more than how to survive when the sun heats the world beyond safety.
Father (Valerio Binasco) must venture out every day for hours at a time, fully suited from head to toe in a HAZMAT-level suit, complete with gas mask, to obtain food and supplies for himself and his three daughters. Stella (Denise Tantucci), the eldest, must care for her younger siblings Luce (Gaia Bocci) and Aria (Olimpia Tosatto) while he’s away. They live in complete darkness, totally reliant on their father to bring them supplies to survive and tell them when it’s safe to unbolt the windows for “Air Day”. Father has told them that only men are strong enough to go outside; women and girls are too weak to withstand the circumstances of their new near-apocalyptic conditions. Tensions rise when Stella, apparently the only one old enough to remember the world before, begins to question his story about the state of the world. When he goes out one day and doesn’t return, she is forced to go out and face it herself in order to provide for her sisters and what she discovers throws them all into turmoil.
Unique depictions of religious extremism are hard to come by in film. It’s a bit of a trope and a subgenre all on its own, in fact, so the frame for portrayals is already set. The most effective uses, to me, are the ones that either lean full tilt into the mold or break away from it entirely, and Darkness does a bit of both through Father and his family. On one side there is Father, suiting up and telling his girls only men can go out in the world, punishing them harshly for so much as playing a fantasy game where they imagine their mother still living and the world outside still livable, and reading from a book labeled The Apocalypse every night before dinner.
On the other is Stella, who seems to remember more about the circumstances of her life than she lets on to anyone else. She spends her time trying to teach Aria, too young or too underdeveloped in her harsh conditions, to speak, and trying to teach newly pubescent Luce that maybe not everything Father does or says should be trusted without question. The dynamic between the sisters is natural and full; sprinkle in instances of Father asserting his power in various forms and the film generates a perfect recipe for uncomfortable tension. Darkness is a study in the strength of family bonds forged under extreme pressure and the fight for freedom and independence from a dominating force who asserts their reality through lies and manipulation.
The film’s moments of poetic justice are beautifully portrayed and often sown from the seeds of Stella’s inner rage at the twisted shape her life has taken at the hands of her father. There are fundamental elements of the dynamic between them and between him and the rest of the women in his family that are only hinted at; to confront them directly would mean an implosion in much the same way as Stella must twist the reality of the outside world around for her sisters so they don’t break. It’s an ultimately bittersweet, dark tale of one family’s attempt to build themselves from circumstances beyond their control and discovering truth for themselves and is definitely worth adding to your watchlists.
By Katelyn Nelson
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