A contemplative grace note in NewFest's raucous chorus of self-affirmation, this muted two-hander traces a three-day mourning interlude linking a dead man's lifelong platonic pal to the deceased's Italian lover-in-waiting.

A contemplative grace note in NewFest’s raucous chorus of self-affirmation, this muted two-hander traces a three-day mourning interlude linking a dead man’s lifelong platonic pal to the deceased’s Italian lover-in-waiting. Helmer Yen Tan (“Happy Birthday”) relies on the contrasting thesping styles of the two leads and a cool, minimalist aesthetic (fixed camera placements within emptying frames) to flesh out his mood piece’s slender plot. As full of sexual tension as it is devoid of sexual activity, “Ciao” qualifies as a quietly charged change of pace for the gay fest circuit.

After the sudden death of his best friend Mark, it falls to Jeff (Adam Neal Smith) to put his affairs in order. Discovering that Mark had been conducting an extended, intimate email relationship with a Web designer named Andrea (Alessandro Calza) who was about to come to Dallas, Texas, to meet Mark for the first time, Jeff writes to inform Andrea of Mark’s demise and head him off at the pass. Upon reflection, however, he invites Andrea to come to Dallas anyway.

Linked by death, the two men explore previously unknown aspects of Mark previously and, gradually, the strength of their mutual attraction to Mark shifts gears, going beyond concern about the departed middleman to focus directly on their own revved-up (if funereally tinged) chemistry.

Helmer/co-scripter Tan conceives of his two characters as complementing each other within a minor key. Thus, Jeff, an investment banker, reads as a composed, almost emotionally shut-down chap, whether by nature or in reaction to Mark’s death or by some combination of both never quite made clear. Indeed, Tan pairs Jeff with female confidante Lauren (Ethel Lung) in certain scenes so he can elucidate his otherwise unspoken feelings.

Andrea, being Italian, necessarily comes off as more expansive (it would be difficult to appear less), albeit in a gentle, comforting way that’s at odds with his blatant sexiness: He infuses every situation with a serene acceptance that always seems poised to turn into something far more sensual. Thesping successfully conveys more through silences than through dialogue, though Calza, who co-scripted, phrases his English lines with seductive sensitivity.

Tech credits are above average. Clare Floyd DeVries’ subdued production design matches Jeff’s quasi-sterile orderliness, while leaving plenty of room for the sexual promise quivering in the air.

Ciao

Production

An Unauthorized production. Produced by Jim McMahon. Co-producers, James M. Johnston, David Patrick Lowery. Directed by Yen Tan. Screenplay, Tan, Alessandro Calza.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Michael Victor Roy; editor, Lowery; music, Stephan Altman; music supervisor, Glen Walsh; production designer, Clare Floyd DeVries; sound designer, Samuel Casas. Reviewed at NewFest, New York, June 8, 2008. (Also in San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.) Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Adam Neal Smith, Alessandro Calza, Ethel Lung, Charles W. Blaum. (English, Italian dialogue)

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