Paolo Strippoli’s “Flowing (Piove)” explores what resentment can do if left unchecked. [Brooklyn Horror Film Festival]

“Hell is other people.”

-Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit

In Sartre’s novel Huis Clos (No Exit), he tells a story of three people locked in a room together who share things about themselves, coming to a conclusion that in their inability to escape from each other, their hell is not being alone. However, an interpretation of No Exit is that what makes hell other people is that we become trapped by the perceived and actual perceptions others have for us. Largely, this is due to poor communication cultivating a cycle of information curation, revelation, and rumination where anger, fear, and pride keep shunting people back-and-forth until all that’s left is pain. If only people would open up honestly, speak without fear of retribution, then, perhaps, hell would not be other people but an oasis of care and comfort. This seems to be the place from which co-writer/director Paolo Strippoli (A Classic Horror Story) took inspiration for Flowing (Piove), having its East Coast Premiere at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, as it continues its festival tour. Though Flowing is very on-the-nose with its messaging, it’s no less impactful due to its creativity. Take it from someone with experience, do not watch this if you’re already dealing with fallout from a familial row. It may leave you in tatters.

It’s been a hard year for the Morel family. In the time since the tragic accident that took mother Cristina’s (Cristiana Dell’Anna) life and injured both son Enrico (Francesco Gheghi) and daughter Barbara (Aurora Menenti), father Thomas (Fabrizio Rongione) has drifted from his children. It’s not because he no longer works as a personal chef, opting instead for multiple gigs to try to cover their expenses and Barbara’s physical therapy, it’s because the three survivors don’t speak about what happened, allowing resentment to build within the silence. But as various spots around Rome have become hot spots of violence due to a hallucinogenic substance rising up as gas, polluting the minds of whomever inhales it, the Morel family will find themselves forced to confront the past in an explosion of barbary that risks their entire future.

Flowing is split into three central pieces, aside from the opening of the film serving as a situational prologue. These pieces are titled “Evaporation,” “Condensation,” and “Precipitation” — a play on the three stages of the water cycle. Seeing as the goo beneath the city infects people with its hallucinogenic properties via vapor inhalation, the titles are appropriate in keeping with the actual thing that is causing the violent outbreaks across Rome, but it’s also important to breaking down the story. In each segment, there is a change of phase (like the water cycle) wherein opportunities are presented for the characters to address or redress their situation, each one too stuck in their perception of things (shame and anger) to do something about it. Therefore, their feelings enter a new phase, fed by their resentment, until it’s appropriately agitated and comes pouring out. What would be a natural release, however, becomes a torrent as this family struggles to make peace with what is over what was. Co-writers Jacopo Del Giudice (9 su 10), Gustavo Hernández (Virus: 32), and Strippoli could’ve easily just placed the titles in the film, a title card serving as a break between sections, but, instead, these titles are depicted via scrawls in walls made via cracks. There is no subtext here about the power of time and pressure to do damage in the very walls that we call our home (in this case, what seem to be on the walls of an apartment building’s hallway). So not only is there an imperceptible presentation of water cycle via the family’s turmoil, there is a physical manifestation for at least the audience to see via the carvings.

Flowing

Francesco Gheghi as Enrico in FLOWING (PIOVE).

Where the film may lose some members of the audience is how the film resolves itself, but not only does it connect directly to the themes of the film but also to the montage opening. Before we meet the Morel family deep in their grief, Strippoli shows us several deaths throughout history in a stylized manner, but always in a cycle of someone watching another die. Each pairing presents the person getting killed in great pain, the observer similarly aggrieved (though not physically). Like the segment cards, this opening highlights the cycle of violence enacting upon humanity that continues into now. So when we get our first real characters of the story, a father-son construction crew team who discover the goo, the audience has already been clued in to the undercurrent running through Flowing: violence begets violence without healthy communication. That’s what resentment, fear, and all the rest lead to when not confronted openly without judgement: violence. It’s why individuals who can’t emotional regulate lash out, it’s why the psychologically stunted rely on passive-aggression to express frustration, and it’s why gentle parenting has arisen as a means of teaching the upcoming generation how to break free of the past to give them a better future. This isn’t to imply that Flowing has a peaceful ending; you get the bloodshed that a film taking part in a horror film festival is expected to unleash. It’s that Strippoli’s film does present a version of what happens on the larger scale when people communicate and emotional flow goes back to healthy levels.

Before you go away thinking that Flowing is all text, it’s also a beautifully crafted film from the performances to the cinematography to the production design. Though Gheghi and Rongione are the clear leads of the film, their performances alone don’t make the film. This is a proper ensemble piece wherein even the smallest parts echo to the corners of the others. You can feel the weight of resentment in the air well before laying eyes on Dell’Anna’s Cristina, formed by the varying physical and verbal execution of the cast. Even without an actual supernatural/mystical/fantastical thing prompting people’s violent outbursts, one would be coming to this family at some point or another. Through Cristiano Di Nicola’s (Crystal Girl) cinematography and Nello Giorgetti’s (5 è il numero perfetto) production design, we come to believe the blurring of reality and fiction that comes to collide further into the story the audience goes. This matters because, in one particularly chilling sequence toward the end, color and space play a huge part in the way two characters, infected by the gas, clash. It’s not just that they are being pushed by destined framework of the script which gives the scene tension, but the dark blue coloring and the objects which fill the space, implying that the past is coming out to be seen. From the moment these white orbs appear within frame, a pit greater anything the film inspires before emerged in my stomach as I watched the reckoning before me unfold.

As mentioned, don’t queue up Flowing is you’re already emotionally compromised. Strippoli holds little back, which is necessary to tell the tale he and the screenwriters seek to explore. If one were to look at the film from a reductive standpoint, it would feel, on some level or another, inspired by a plotline from 1989’s Ghostbusters II. To make such a comparison, while superficially apt, would also misconstrue what the goo is, what it means to infect people, and the conclusion of the tale. This review has gone to great lengths to leave things spoiler-free, so it shall end by saying simply this: be kind to yourself, be kind to others. Hell is only other people if we allow them to be.

Screening during the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival 2022.

For more information, head to the official Flowing BHFF film webpage.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.



Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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