NEW YORK–“Via Appia” is an “enacted documentary,” a film within a film about a German who returns to Rio de Janeiro to make some sense of why he is infected with AIDS. He takes along a film crew to document his search for the man who gave him the virus. While the premise is interesting, something got lost in the execution.
Incredibly enough, “Via Appia” manages to make Rio boring. The film’s title is the name of a street populated by hustlers. Frank (Peter Senner), a former airline steward who is now sick, and the film director (Yves Jansen) tour the city’s gay underground, visiting bathhouses, hotels, discos and parks.
Their guide is Jose (Guilherme de Padua), who promises to deliver Mario, the man who scrawled “Welcome to the AIDS Club” after spending the night with Senner.
Senner’s only record of Mario is a photograph, one of many nude photos he has taken of hustlers.
The plot device is an excuse for writer/director Jochen Hick to include plenty of male nudity, beginning with the opening titles.
Hick does have more on his mind than gratuitous nudity, however.
He also wants to show a man dealing with AIDS by searching for the cause of it and creating art at the same time.
Few films have shown a man living with AIDS, rather than simply dying of it, and Hick deserves credit for his approach to the disease.
Senner is resigned, and sometimes depressed, but he does not give up hope and gets on with his life.
At the end of the film he goes to the beach in his steward uniform and walks into the ocean.
He might be committing suicide, but a moment later he is back on the beach.
Senner says to the camera he doesn’t know what he’ll do next; the cameraman says there’s no more film, and the movie ends.
“Via Appia” is intriguing as a piece of self-reflexive filmmaking, but the plot is minimal and the pacing is glacially slow.
The acting is low-key, like the rest of the film.
If anything, “Via Appia” is too understated.
Made for just $ 300,000, it is visually rough.
The hand-held camera work and natural lighting give it a cinema verite look, but at times the darkness makes it a challenge to follow the action–or lack thereof.
“Via Appia” has good intentions, but they don’t amount to a satisfying film.