Diarchy (2010)

Short film with skeletal cast of characters is ambiguous, tense and gorgeous.


Ferdinando Cito Filomarino

Ferdinando Cito Filomarino

Director of Photography:
Daria D’Antonio

Running time: 20 minutes

Original title: Diarchia

Rich half-siblings (one of whom is played by Louis Garrel) and the consequential visit of a stranger immediately bring to mind the provocative 2003 film by Bernando Bertolucci, The Dreamers, but the short film Diarchia, by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino (another Italian), is something quite different.

For one thing, whereas The Dreamers was animated in large part by garrulous discussions about philosophy and the cinema, with no small focus on sexual intimacy, Filomarino strives here for one thing only: tension. Having arrived at the grandiose summer villa of his friend Luc, the Italian Giano, clearly an outsider to this world of opulence, albeit faded opulence, does not want to fight back when Luc starts landing punches on him. But eventually, of course, he lashes out as way of standing up for himself and when he hits Luc, the Frenchman tumbles into the stairwell and breaks his neck.

Now, Giano has to clean up the mess by dragging the limp body from one room to the next so that Luc’s anonymous half-sister (whose line of work is unknown, even to Luc) does not catch him in flagrante delicto. These scenes are tense but not without some gallows humour that could have made Hitchcock proud, especially when Giano drives away from the villa with the cold body of Luc in the passenger seat, his eyes wide open and a big smile on his face. What happens next is unexpected and requires some analysis: Luc’s smile suddenly grows bigger, and he turns his head to look out of window, before a cut to black.

Having spent the previous 10-15 minutes in the company of Giano, who is concerned but in total control and shows very little if any anxiety at the prospect of being found out, this final moment initially seems like a condescending spit in our collective face, like those “it was all just a dream” epiphanies. But dig a little deeper, and the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, even though together they form a picture that may be abstract at best.

Let’s look at what the film is actually about. On the surface, which is certainly the area that ought to interest and engage the viewer the most, it is about a visit gone wrong, an unhappy coincidence, a death, a cover-up and an escape. The first half is playful but with at least one character a bit out of his depth, we also feel slightly awkward, especially when Luc starts punching Giano — softly at first, then harder and harder, almost like a bully. The second half is stressful but not exactly thrilling stuff, as Giano never breaks a sweat and even makes a point of staring at the half-sister moments after he accidentally killed Luc. There is a slight desire, but it is likely for the position she occupies and the life she lives rather than her looks.

When Giano is on the verge of leaving, the half-sister asks him whether he would like to join them for a ski trip, and there is a moment when, despite the obvious insanity of accepting, he seems to be considering the proposition. And although the title is never mentioned in the film, one has to take its connotations of tradition, and of the ruler as one of two equals, into account. “Diarchy” refers to the system of government that has two rulers instead of one. The small nations of Andorra and San Marino are two of the best-known examples.

Although the film is not very generous with its facts, we can surmise that Giano is not from the same social class as Luc and his half-sister, although it is unclear how he got to meet Luc and why he was invited along to their private residence, especially as we gradually realize that Luc and Giano do not know each other very well. This issue of class does not get much attention, but it might offer one of the best points of entry into an interpretation of the film; after all, the very first shot of the film is taken from the front of Luc’s car, decked out with the immediately recognizable logo of Mercedes-Benz.

The film is bookended by two scenes in Luc’s car. In the first scene, he is driving, and in the last scene, Giano is driving, although he only gets to drive because he has, by the looks of it, fatally punched his way into Luc’s position. And yet, when director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino suddenly reveals that this may just be a fantasy, he also brilliantly undercuts the possibility of Giano ever driving a Mercedes-Benz anywhere besides his own daydreams.

The camera moves around effortlessly inside the villa, and the technical credits are impeccable. These 20 minutes offer the viewer a great deal to ponder, especially after the first viewing, and except for a strange encounter with a fox, the second viewing will confirm that this is not a one-trick pony.

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