‘I’ve heard about Italian girls, and they’re supposed to be wild.” So says one of the members of an American high school soccer team travelling to the Mediterranean town of Fondi for a summer tournament. Decked out in their orange uniforms, these boys are looking to score, but not necessarily on the football pitch. This could be the stuff of a gender-flipped Spring Breakers romp – or maybe the opening of Hostel 3 – but Toronto-based director Dev Khanna’s debut feature gradually slips into a more grave, pensive mode.
It takes these cues from its protagonist, Anil (Raymond Ablack), a handsome but awkward Indian-American youth who sees himself as an outsider on the team and feels uncomfortable talking to women. Maybe he’s just been on the wrong continent, however, because before long, he’s smitten with two impossibly lovely females: his deep-pocketed host’s daughter (Serena Iansiti) as well as French gamine Sophie (Mylène St-Saveur), a vision of virginal innocence all decked out in white. Fondi ’91 pivots on Anil’s conflicted reaction to a shady encounter between his love object and a teammate – a sequence laced with an uncomfortable combination of guilt and voyeurism.
Co-writer/director Khanna integrates these darker elements into his superficially sunny tale with aplomb, aided by cinematographer Benjamin Lichty, whose visual palette is at once steeped in shadows and bursting with local colour. Considering that it is a first feature, Fondi ’91 is adroitly assembled and the director shows some boldness in kicking the soccer subplot off to the side, turning what initially shows signs of being a generic sports flick into a different kind of underdog story.
As Anil, Degrassi alum Ablack is maybe a little too smouldering to be believable as such a naïf, but he’s so much better than his clownish male co-stars that it’s a relief when he gets some scenes alone; he’s elevated by his encounters with Iansiti, who has a relaxed, worldly quality that puts across some of her character’s more unlikely dialogue.
The quality of the writing in Fondi ’91 is highly variable – it’s hard to tell if the some of the boys’ profane bluster is approximating or satirizing dumb-ass locker-room bravado – and the screenplay’s various paralleling devices are obvious. Fondi ’91 has its flaws, but for the most part they arise from the same wellspring of sincerity as its virtues: it’s an uneven but earnest debut.