The omnipresent power of criminals that resides beneath the buff and shine of Silvio Berlusconi's Italy provides the context for Leonardo di Costanzo's narrative debut, L'Intervallo. Teenaged Salvatore (Alessio Gallo) works as a lemon-ice-cart operator alongside his father, but even such menial, low-wage work is subject to the sway of those with guns. The cart is stolen from Salvatore by a local thug, Mimmo (Salvatore Ruocco), who promises to return the young man's sole means of employment in exchange for babysitting Veronica (Francesca Riso), a smart-ass lady friend to chief hood Bernardino (Carmine Paternoster), who'll arrive by nightfall to relieve him.
Held up in an abandoned building, Salvatore and Veronica start the day at odds, but eventually come out of their shells to argue, laugh, and discuss life beyond the boundaries of adolescence. The building becomes a world of discovery, and Costanzo shows a gift for invention and variations in imagery by giving a large amount of the rooms distinct physical characteristics, manifestations of the teen diptych's moods and subject matter. And though Bernardino is revealed to be a calculating sociopath, there's an ever-present reality in the narrative that his business, if not him specifically, both allowed for the building to become abandoned and keeps the community happy, the latter point most palpably alluded to when Mimmo pays Salvatore much more than lemon-ice money for his time.
Perhaps modeling his aesthetic on Berlusconi's sense of glamour overriding moral and societal decay, Costanzo makes the dingy interiors and overgrown exteriors look bucolic with light and subtle design touches, but the intimated underpinnings of anger and fantasy never come to full fruition. Visually, the film has a near-delicate look to it, but the characters are so broadly etched that they evaporate within Costanzo's sunlit environs. Their discussions feel of the moment, but are nevertheless arbitrary and easily forgotten, as if their shared condition is of no real consequence.
It's only after the two have clearly bonded that Veronica attempts to escape, but Costanzo's stakes remain out of reach, as the lackadaisical naturalism of the film's artifice is never challenged by true outrage, sexuality, or power dynamics. In essence, he praises the Italian people's ability to get by no matter what, but never analyzes the cruelty and inhumanity of a power structure where mere survival is an accomplishment. Gallo and Riso make for a memorable enough twosome, but they barely protrude from the tidy moral turns of Costanzo's film, which drifts by at the tempo and with the temperament of a grounded sunny afternoon.