Though the subject matter is intense, the idea behind “The Neighbor” is more terrifying and thought-provoking than the film itself.
In a departure from the usual films I watch, and in celebration of Pride Month, I decided to check out The Neighbor, an intense but measured drama by Pasquale Marrazzo.
The film centers around the love between two young men and the intolerant acts from others they must endure as they are persecuted by others so blinded by hate to see any humanity in the couple.
Following an altercation in a park with neo-Nazis, one of the men, Luca (Jacopo Costantini), is set upon and badly beaten, which ends with him being placed in a medically induced coma.
His lover, Riccardo (Michele Costabile), is prevented from visiting Luca in the hospital by Luca’s family.
Luca’s mother disapproves of their relationship, and she refuses even to tell Riccardo the location of the hospital where Luca is staying. Overcome with grief and worry, we follow Riccardo through the aftermath of the horrific attack to its inevitable conclusion.
Through flashbacks, we get to see the couple in happier times— and not-so-happy times — and writer-director-producer Marrazzo does an incredible job demonstrating that this gay couple is indistinguishable from any straight couple, other than the lack of acceptance and hatred from others they are forced to endure as a result of their love.
The two leads are compelling, and the rest of the cast is strong.
The two leads deliver their parts competently, as do all of the cast, but something always feels a bit missing, sadly.
Michele Costabile, as Riccardo, does just enough to convey his immediate worry and agony over the growing belief that he may never see Luca again.
For me, however, this depiction falls down as the range goes simply from speaking softly to shouting. Even as Luca’s family continually withholds information, with only Luca’s sister communicating on his condition, the urgency and devastation don’t come across.
He has to do a lot of work in effectively carrying these intense moments, but the emotion fails to register. This is a shame because these scenes could have been incredibly powerful, given the tragedy of the situation.
Luca’s mum is the other side of the coin.
She is desperate not to lose her son (despite being critical of him and his life) and has no empathy for how it is affecting Riccardo. The fact that their love is real means nothing to her. She looks to her faith but ignores the pleas of her daughter to allow Riccardo access. This would ultimately mean accepting her son for all he is, and she just cannot do it. Her faith won’t allow it, despite the fact that it should be about love and acceptance.
That same faith also does little to bring comfort, and it certainly doesn’t help to bring her son back to her.
There’s a gut-wrenching scene at a family dinner where Luca is clearly desperate for his mom’s acceptance, yet she refuses to grant it.
Her feelings of shame keep her from having the relationship with her son he so craves.
As for the father, once the enormity of the situation hits, he breaks down. And he is faced with the genuine possibility of losing a child and the guilt over not saying what he should have when he had the chance. This is all so heavily rooted in reality, and these heartbreaking moments are tough to watch.
This conflict is also shared by Luca’s sister, as she is more compassionate to Riccardo.
Yet, she is torn between her empathy and wanting to obey the wishes of her mother. It’s an impossible situation, and Luisa Vernelli, as Rachele, ably handles this. Still, it feels a bit like a one-note delivery. Even in those moments where she is conveying the emotion of sisterly love, it doesn’t really hit with any real force until she finally loses it, blaming the couple’s queer relationship for everything that has happened.
It’s a powerful scene, but it only lasts for a moment. And I would have loved to have had more of this kind of intensity throughout THE NEIGHBOR.
There’s a resolution with the leader of the neo-Nazi gang that should be more satisfying than it is. Instead, it just falls a bit flat, as does another seemingly unnecessary thread involving an Uncle that is introduced late in the film.
Ultimately, the emotionally charged moments seem to be short-changed. Even with the flashback and expositional moments, The Neighbor lacks the emotional reach to grab you where it counts. it doesn’t seem to have that emotional reach to grab you where it counts.
In many respects, it’s a brave film, and I definitely appreciated that.
It doesn’t pull any punches in terms of how the relationship is presented or in how the couple is brutally targeted. It also avoids cheap sensationalism or titillation.
As I mentioned before, I truly loved how the couple is shown as entirely ordinary in every respect other than same-sex attraction. They are shown just doing what couples do, and I think that’s imperative. That’s the crux of the film, and it really works in that respect. A same-sex relationship is no different from a straight one. Gay couples share the same fears, wants, needs, and emotional connections as heterosexual ones. They just want — and absolutely deserve — to live their lives, love who they want, and be accepted for who they are.
Sadly, for so many, those basic needs are unattainable, especially in the current politically-charged environment where queer rights are once again under strong attack.
The Neighbor is a difficult film for me to score. While it didn’t deliver all I wanted, the subject is incredibly important, and it is handled in a thoughtful way. In that respect, I think it’s well worth seeing.
For me, however, the film felt like it meandered too much and would have benefitted from a shorter run time. It lacks the emotional gravitas I think it needed to truly make the impact it should have made — the impact it deserves to make.
This one was a bit too easy to forget, and that’s a shame because there is some powerful subject matter being explored.
I would love to have seen this film slightly elevated to give more people the opportunity to connect with it entirely. As it stands now, it’s good but falls short of being great.