★★★ / ★★★★
Mark (Chuck Blaum) and Jeff (Adam Neal Smith) meet in college and become best friends over the years. When Mark passes away while on his way to work, Jeff volunteers to clear out his friend’s apartment and take care of his personal business like canceling credit cards and responding to e-mails for people who are not yet aware of Mark’s passing. To Jeff’s surprise, Mark had been in touch with a guy in Italy named Andrea (Alessandro Calza). Andrea sends an e-mail to remind Mark of his visit and Jeff finds himself in an awkward situation. Instead of suggesting that he change his plans, Jeff invites Andrea to Houston, Texas so he can meet the man Mark has kept from him.
Written by Yen Tan and Alessandro Calza, “Caio” is tender without sacrificing realism in terms of dealing with loss. Instead of saying obvious things like “I miss him” or “I wish he didn’t die,” there are many scenes that show these feelings.
For instance, Jeff might look at Mark’s laundry and suddenly be reminded how his friend despised it when the laundry piled up. The mountain of laundry is proof that his friend is gone and never coming back. The painful sadness is embedded in the small moments when Jeff is doing something like packing up some books or CDs. He gets into a trance and is taken out of it after a few seconds. He has to stop for a minute and catch up to himself. He is reminded why he is there in the first place.
I was glad that Jeff and Andrea’s relationship is not reduced to a sexual need. It is so easy for most LGBT pictures to surrender to temptation. It is not necessary to this story. Since the characters do not deal with sex, by the end, we feel that the two has shared a mutual respect that can potentially turn into a strong friendship.
In a way, the Texan and the Italian meet to find closure. Jeff, after reading the deceased e-mails, knows that Andrea is important to Mark but he does not know exactly why other than the fact that he is aware that Mark was into exotic-looking guys. Getting to know Andrea is a way to find an answer to a question he will never get a chance to ask. Andrea needs closure, too. By getting to know the person who knows Mark best, it is like getting to know Mark through an alternative route.
“Ciao,” directed by Yen Tan, is about grief but it has an uplifting message. In each scene, the characters reminisce about the man they knew. Just because he is dead, it does not mean that the marks he has made when he was alive are no longer there. Mark’s face is not shown until near the end. Since Jeff and Andrea have talked about him so much, when the film does finally show it for the first time (while singing a catchy, funny, touching country song), we feel like I already knew him.
“Ciao” is often used as a term for “goodbye,” but let us not forget that it is also used as “hello.”