Writer-director Cristiano Neila’s Grabadora Sound is a brisk 7- minute cruise through the world of music production. In 2019, it was an entry at the Rome Independent Film Festival.
A musician (Mario De Lillo) ventures out at night, microphone in hand, listening closely for inspiration to complete his latest production. The next day, a young girl (Altea Hernandez), selling second-hand goods, is given back a bullhorn by an uninterested shopkeeper.
Given the short running time, De Lillio and Hernandez have a tight slot to craft their characters. Unfortunately, they are held back by the script, which makes little effort in the way of characterisation. No risks are set, little empathy is established and, consequently, we are largely unmoved by the story’s resolution. Some more attention to character certainly would have helped in producing a more involving and rewarding story.
Where Grabadora Sound does hit higher notes is in its production values. The film looks great and it’s here where Neila does shine; the filmmaking quality is certainly of feature calibre. And yet, it is here where the film screams for some creativity. Neila’s easily most arresting moment is his opening. The camera focuses on a close-up of De Lillio, illuminated in neon blue, sitting in his car listening to the fragments of sound as they shatter the silence of the early hours. We hear footsteps, the clang of some metal and feel perhaps we’re about to be drawn into a type of surveillance thriller, something in the mould of Rear Window or The Conversation. We then see who is making the noise, this time a dash of darkened red filling the bottom half of the screen. A Vangelis-like synthesiser soundtrack begins, and Neila cuts to a medium shot of Hernandez, high above the blurry, suburban rooftops gazing out into the night. It’s a promising beginning and a pity that nothing else really comes from the potential shown in Neila’s first minute.
Frustratingly, the themes are there. For all the technology that De Lillio has at his hands, he needs that essential human ingredient to make the final connection in his music. Hernandez has her talent but is trapped in a dead end as “the most beautiful junkyard in the neighbourhood”. However, the lacklustre script doesn’t realise these enough and, instead, an average story is left to play out with little momentum. Neila’s ending is also a little clumsy. Do the two characters already know each other? If not, is Hernandez aware of who he is? It’s a carelessness that is representative of the film as a whole.
Ultimately, it’s not the sounds, or story, that make Grabadora Sound. Neila’s film visually gleams, yet undersells itself. We just feel that something more should have come from this one.