Through sleepless nights in a white van, ‘Cronofobia’ ponders reality and the self

(Photos: IMDB)
A more than mysterious man, a psychologically disturbed woman, an improbable meeting: these are the ingredients of disturbing strangeness that make up the world of Cronofobia. With its skillfully maintained, hushed suspense and subtle acting, the 2018 film by Swiss director Francesco Rizzi keeps viewers spellbound from the start. اضافة اعلان

In celebration of “Week of the Italian Language”, Cronofobia will be screened today at Rainbow Theater in Amman. The screening is being organized by The Royal Film Commission, in collaboration with the Embassy of Switzerland and the Embassy of Italy in Jordan.

Rizzi’s first feature film, Cronofobia is clearly inspired in terms of settings, atmospheres, and style by Paolo Sorrentino’s The Consequences of Love. The story revolves around the figure of Michael, an enigmatic and solitary man who travels from country to country (changing his appearance as he goes) to evaluate the quality of service at hotels, restaurants, and shops.

In an ironic twist, the man runs into Anna, a restless and tormented woman with insomnia problems. The two begin a strange and disturbing relationship which sees them traversing snowy streets at night in a van — the only solution for the woman’s sleeplessness. Michael soon starts to frequent Anna’s house, and the two slowly get used to sharing the silence of everyday life.

The camouflage of the ego
The film focuses on moments of quiet and unconvincing dialogues, giving the impression that the director planned to take the path of evocative cinema, but only partially succeeded.

If the screenplay is the greatest and most evident limitation of this film, what shines is excellent photography that partially redeems an otherwise disappointing work.

Chronofobia questions the camouflage of the ego: the film is the story of the abandonment of reality — of the subject’s complete replacement with a carefully chosen mask.

The protagonist Michael Suter (Vinicio Marchioni) is always wearing something fake: a beard or mustache to hide his face. In this way, Michael moves incessantly through aseptic geometries and bars with no identity, meeting anonymous faces and honey smiles illuminated by icy neon lights. His existence is nourished by fictions: a perennial investigation into the surface gestures of others and their most artificial appearances.

Vinicio Marchioni in Cronofobia

Yet, Rizzi allows hope to emerge in the course of the film: if in this no-time and in these non-places we can only represent wandering figures in solitary, at least these solitudes can share the same plane of existence. Michael thus meets Anna (Sabine Timoteo), an equally mysterious and problematic woman relegated to the “prison” of the past, to moments that prevent her from progressing in life.

Cold silence
The cold chromatic scale and the soundtrack, featuring both music by Zeno Gabaglio and silences punctuated with the sound of rain, distill an oppressive atmosphere. First, a silhouette of a man in a swimming pool is seen from a low angle at the bottom of the pool. Then, a man (the same?) is in a vehicle on a quiet road, on a cold night. We see him behind his windshield, observing a villa. Behind the half-open shutters, the silhouette of a woman is glimpsed. She then leaves the house to go for a run. The man follows her, and watches her stop just before the railway line to scream at the passage of the train.

Sabine Timoteo in Cronofobia 

This succession of brief sequences and tight editing put viewers on the lookout. We find the man in a barber shop; he sticks on a false mustache and goes to a watch shop where he plays a murky game with the saleswoman. Then, he appears again in front of the villa and rings nervously at the gate as the woman watches through the skylight, not willing to open the door.

The title is already a question in itself, and with this stilted start, the viewer hesitates. Is it a film noir, the chronicle of a psychopath, or an urban road movie? The ambiguity is maintained, and the keys to this enigma are offered as late as possible.

A mock relationship
Little by little, we learn that “he” is Michael Suter, traveling the country in his white van. Anna, meanwhile, is traumatized by violent mourning. Between these two beleaguered beings, a relative trust is woven. He is the first person she allows to enter her house, filled with memories of the deceased.

Anna is not looking for a real relationship; it is rather a diversion from the insomnia. In one scene, this is apparent when she only lets Michael touch the cigarettes of her deceased husband, if he agrees to rehearse the dead man’s smoking gestures.

These specificities allow for the inception of communication, but also determine its limit. The relationship will remain a sham, as the characters’ words attest. “I don’t want to know who you are, no personal question,” says Anna. Michael also plays the game: “I like being able to feel like a foreigner.” He reveals that, since his birth, he was been destined to be a replacement; his parents had given him the first name of his deceased older brother.

The first script
The two actors masterfully infuse density into the story. Sabine Timoteo, on edge, exudes a particular sensitivity. The director chose an actress capable of a childish, vulnerable, and aggressive — almost wild — performance. For his part, Vivinio Marchioni, awarded twice in Italy for this role, excels in conveying a rich interiority. In an economy of gestures, with eloquent looks, he gives depth to silences. Rizzi had also thought of this actor early on.

Despite the inevitable failure of the relationship and the dramatic tension – also due to Michael’s completely indirect role in the death of Anna’s husband – a glimmer emerges at the end of the story. The two protagonists have evolved through this impossible romance, helping to put each other back on their paths. Somehow, Michael helped unbind Anna from her past and his experience with her seems to have refocused him. As he rediscovers the desire to be himself, Michael occupies more of the center frame.

The moments of the couple, simulations of coexistence themselves, are filled with silences, gestures, and confessions. Love, the first script that we learn to act in life, is here charged with restoring a space for the other, opening the door to the possible and the new, regaining a place as a protagonist in the world, and finally in overcoming ‘chromophobia’ itself — the fear of the passing of time.

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