While stories of the pain associated with falling in love with the wrong person, or at a non-opportune time may be one of the many staple formulas that romance films tend to get itself into, this Italian-Russian co-production written and directed by Valerio Mieli is an impressive debut work about the romantic lives of Camilla (Isabella Ragonese) and Silvestro (Michele Riondino) which managed to cut through the usual swath of saccharine sweet romances to bring us something that's quite painful and bittersweet in the affairs of the fickle heart.
Unravelling itself over a near 10 year period, the narrative is structured such that we get to see key moments in chronological order, almost one memorable scene in a year, and taking place over the winter season, of how Camilla and Silvestro develop both as persons, and potential lovers. Like a pair of cold hearts just waiting to be thawed for each other, their journey is an extremely rocky one, and this is deliberately designed by Valerio as a reflection of how we sometimes meet and part with friends, only to catch up some time later, and pick up where we left off. We learn as they learn of the changes in their respective lives, sometimes expected, while other incidents take us by surprise.
Introduced in the most serendipitous of ways, they meet on a boat in Venice, with Silvestro getting off the boat, following her and makes up an excuse of missing the last boat in order to appeal to Camilla's good Samaritan in her, and let him in from the cold. It's a classic Camel-Arab-Tent story, with Silvestro slowing inching his way and take more than his advantage to get close to Camilla, so much so that you'd expect spark to fly immediately, but for pride to stand in the way. Thus begin an arduous journey for reconciliation, where partners come and go, and life as it is continues across countries even.
The characters of Camilla and Silvestro couldn't be more different than opposites, and you know what they say about opposites attract. It is both to Isabella Rogonese and Michele Riondino's individual charisma and chemistry with each other that makes Ten Winters so compelling to watch as you feel their pain, of unrequited love, of messy breakups, and with that constant, nagging reminder that it's all about timing and the seizing of opportunity as it comes, otherwise with which the moment will be lost and the search having to start all over again. Rogonese also goes through different hairstyles that tell of the passage of time, and clues you in as well to the emotional turmoil felt.
The story, backed by an excellent piano score, gets staged at various points in their lives, many of which happening in and about their quaint little house they shared in Venice. The episodes crafted are all of varying run times, and one of my favourites was one of the shortest, but sans dialogue to allow for cruel fate to play things out as it would. Sometimes things are best left unsaid, though this particular scene hammers home the point that we could always be so close, and yet so distant and far apart.
In TIFF's main competition, Ten Winters brought to mind last year's offering in Ivy Ho's Claustrophobia, also about two lovers, with short episodes unspooling itself but in reverse order, this would rank as one of the recommended films to watch, especially for those who enjoy romantic films but with that need for some fresh air in treatment.