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Across the River
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by Jay Seaver

"There's something there, but getting it out is a process."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I had the feeling when I saw "Across the River" ("Oltre il Gaudo" in Italian) that when the time came to expand the capsule I wrote for my blog to a full entry, I would not have a whole lot to say. It is, after all, a pretty minimalist movie, and the folks who try to write a lot about those tend to find more than is actually there out of necessity. So let's keep it simple. Lorenzo Bianchini has made a creepy little movie, in part because he gives the audience the chance to fill in some early blanks which are already in interesting shapes.

It is a very basic set-up: Guy goes alone into the woods, weird stuff happens, and there's a real possibility that nobody is coming out again. There's almost no dialog and backstory is parceled out in miserly fashion toward the end - it's an hour into the movie before there is any reason to say Marco Contrada's name out loud or given an inkling of what his reason for being in these woods and the abandoned village he finds there.

Filmmaker Lorenzo Bianchini does pretty well in the atmosphere department. Start from how the woods is inherently creepy, add a crossing of running water that he makes far more portentous than it logically may be, and give away so little that it's not even clear whether what's hidden in these woods is cryptozoologic or paranormal - or what Marco's motives are, and things get thoroughly unnerving. There's something sinister about watching a man set up cameras and record other information without explanation, and by not telling the audience whether Marco is doing legitimate research or preparing to spy on other people, it's along time before the audience can get comfortable enough to do their own classifications of what they see on-screen.

Saying a lot of nothing can make for a dull movie, which happens for a stretch or two here, but Bianchini knows what he's doing. He appropriates found-footage techniques like holding a camera steady on a single shot waiting for something to happen and letting the characters move around the frame without following them without ever making it that sort of film, so that he does have the freedom to go poking around in other places or cutting when he needs to. It's voyeuristic but not explicitly so. More importantly, he never feels like he's holding back just to string the audience along; instead, he's been very careful about setting up a situation where the audience can glean what they need but not giving it the extra push of people explaining things to each other. An atmospheric soundtrack by Stefano Sciascia quietly intensifies the situation.

Marcho Marchese, meanwhile, has the screen to himself much of the time and he does a good job of echoing the audience's feelings of nervousness and curiosity. Sure, part of his job is to be distant and tricky to read, but it's a nice bit of being able to read someone by how they go about their work rather than by what they say and how they emote, whether in voice or gestures. Renzo Gariup and Lidia Zabrieszach are interesting as an older couple that may be hiding a secret, but it's mostly Marchese's film to carry.

Would I like it if Bianchini were a little less stingy? Yeah, a bit, although he avoids the feeling of only having part of a movie that this sort of project often has. But I must admit, I would have jumped more and been more thoroughly creeped out. It could use a few more big shocks along the way, but it's got a good "Blair Witch" vibe to it even without them.

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originally posted: 10/13/13 01:25:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Lorenzo Bianchini

Written by
  Lorenzo Bianchini
  Michela Bianchini

  Marco Marchese

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