A strongly narrated tale about obsessive love between two sisters, “Open My Heart” by young documaker Giada Colagrande starts as a quasi-voyeuristic look at forbidden passion, then slowly turns to a very Italian film noir. Though the racy material is used more ritualistically than naturalistically, story still has a perverse fascination, despite some technical clumsiness and stiff thesping. With local critical support, this mini-budgeted tyro effort could find an audience in Italy, and its Venice bow could open the hearts of offshore fest programmers.
Colagrande casts herself as the 17-year-old Caterina, a shy girl who loves art and music, pretty in an Audrey Tautou way. She lives in a modest apartment with her much older sister and lover Maria (Natalie Cristiani), a prostitute. This arrangement has been going on since their mother, also a prostitute, died when Caterina was 2. By now she’s used to Maria’s clients ringing the doorbell, but she still turns up the music to drown out the squeaking bedsprings.
Maria is her mother, lover and warden, for it soon becomes apparent the younger girl is a prisoner in the apartment. She goes out only to attend dance class, chaperoned by her sister. But this little taste of freedom sparks a mutual attraction with the school caretaker Giovanni (Claudio Botosso).
To nip their relationship in the bud, Maria coolly invites Giovanni home to bed. Though humiliated, Caterina is not beaten, and with sis in the next room she seduces him with a sexy dance number. Clever Maria turns the tables again, making Caterina participate in an unwholesome threesome. But her repressive efforts are futile against the girl’s newly discovered emotions. The film proceeds down even more perverse and unbelievable paths, until it loses touch with reality altogether and ends up a pure fairy tale.
Shooting in DV video in just two locations, Colagrande makes a virtue of her limited means by integrating the film’s necessarily minimal look with controlled shots and brief flashes of scenes.
In the central role, she bravely doffs her clothes in a series of increasingly explicit bedroom scenes. At the same time, she creates a strong impression of coy helplessness as Caterina, who gets what she wants despite massive psychological manipulation. Rest of the cast is, however, too leaden to get far with pic’s big themes, from incest and obsession to the nature of the couple.