Italian director Fabio Mollo also co-wrote the compelling script for his debut feature, “South is Nothing,” a film that serves as a series of swift, emotional gut punches. The story follows 17-year-old Grazia (Miriam Karlkvist) and her single father, Christiano (Vinicio Marchioni) as they deal (and don’t deal) with the death of brother/son Pietro. Karlvist, bearing the brunt of the screen time, deftly wields the emotional weight of the linguistically sparse script. We don’t always know what’s going through her head, but we don’t need specifics to feel her grief and frustration with her father’s refusal to connect or confess.
Christiano lives in a tenuous limbo, having done something to piss off the local mafia-controlled fish trade in their small Italian seaside town. Someone wants him both out of business and out of town. He is just coming to terms with the fact that he will be unable to keep the shop in the family, but he fails to take into account the notion that Grazia might not want that life anyway. He uses Grazia’s final exams as a stalling tactic, claiming he can’t do anything until she finishes school. But Grazia might never finish because her head and heart are not in it.
Grazia has been slowly going mad for five years, living in the dark about her brother’s absence. She knows nothing beyond the fact that he is recently deceased. Christiano and her grandmother know the truth about what happened, but refuse to discuss it. It doesn’t help Grazia’s emotional state that her grandmother claims to see and speak with Pietro’s ghost on a regular basis. Grazia eventually convinces herself that he’s still alive and begins to chase his apparition all over town. Without a thread of sanity among them, the occasional suggestion of paranormal activity also keeps the audience on the fence about the truth of the matter.
But this isn’t a film about truth. It’s about raw, unbridled emotion. Christiano is an utter mess – so blinded by grief and his own problems, that he doesn’t see his daughter becoming an adult who will soon be making her own life decisions. Without any parental guidance, Grazia mostly spends her days alone, laying in Pietro’s boat and trying to connect with him in any way she can.
No friends to speak of, Grazia is teased at school for her butch appearance and anti-social behavior. She is quiet and solitary, her drinking and smoking tendencies more closely resembling adult coping strategy (particularly her father’s) than teenage rebellion. But she still contends with the irrational mood swings that come with being 17. Eventually, she strikes up a volatile friendship with Carmelo, the son of a traveling carnival vendor. Carmelo, gives her a hard time at first, but it’s likely due to the connection issues that arise from a nomadic lifestyle.
Those who desire resolution should steer clear of “South is Nothing.” It’s driven by pathos rather than plot. Every human interaction in this film is a struggle. But if you’re in the market for visual poetry (thanks to cinematographer, Debora Vrizzi) and a powerhouse performance by Karlvist, you’ll be a satisfied customer.