Love between two young men is put to the test in The Neighbor, or Prossimo tuo (Hotel Milano), an emotionally involving drama from Pasquale Marrazzo.
Riki (Michele Costabile) and Luca (Jacopo Costantini) live in northwest Milan, where they are regularly attacked and harassed by a gang. They try to carry on best as possible, but one day Luca is viciously attacked at a train station, and enters into a coma.
Riki, unable to reach Luca, is eventually called by Luca’s sister Rachele at the hospital. She keeps Riki updated on his partner’s health, but reluctantly follows her parents’ wishes by declining to tell Riki which hospital Luca is at. Riki, stuck at home and powerless, desperately calls every hospital he can, to find his partner’s whereabouts.
As the medical crisis unfolds in the present, there’s a timeline shift pulling in flashbacks of earlier days of Riki and Luca’s relationship: Luca helping Riki rehearse as Marc Antony in Julius Caesar, the day they introduce their mothers to one another, and revisiting deeper conversations the two have about marriage and fidelity.
It’s through these flashbacks that The Neighbor is its most emotionally powerful: crafting a very believable, authentic portrayal of the relationship lifecycle, from its blissful honeymoon stage jitters, to carrying out day-to-day life and key milestones, through to the frustrating disagreements, and yearning for a resolution.
Their love, or the memory of their love, is the sole bright spot in their world: of homophobic gangs, disapproving parents, and even the complacent Rachele, who tries to mediate between her parents and Riki, but buckles down to her parents’ wishes.
The rough, heightened psychological setting is visually conveyed through the handheld, digital quality of the cinematography, with high-contrast lighting, and an unbalanced color palette reflecting the harsher, frustrating scenes of Riki’s life, trapped in his apartment. These are poetically contrasted by more traditionally composed, picturesque staging of the most touching romantic moments, spending time together worry-free, and planning their future together.
Not every narrative element works in execution – from the tried-and-true trope of homophobic parents on Luca’s side, to Riki’s overly complicated background with a recovering-addict mother, plus deeper trauma from his past – though these expositional details reinforce that the only ones who truly care for, and are fully present, for Luca and Riki are each other.
The film’s final, haunting scene thematically calls back Riki’s portrayal of Marc Antony, and is visually evocative of one of the most startling moments of Ken Russell’s Women in Love, as a primal, poignant depiction of what commitment and lifelong dedication can mean. Its conclusion is unsettling and disturbing, but in a world seemingly committed to keeping the two apart, Riki only sees one way in which they can be together.
The Neighbor is available on: