The reality behind a relationship: While You’re Sleeping (2019)

Ca’Foscari Short Film Festival
International Competition 2020

Courtesy of Ca’ Foscari Short Film Festival

In Francesca Giuffrida’s While You’re Sleeping (Mentre Dormi) desire is both a source of hope and one of despair. Utilising subtle genre trappings, the film – originating from Italy’s Civica Scuola di Cinema Luchino Visconti – tells an unconventional relationship story that continually tries to wrong-foot its audience.

Renowned musician Anna (a fine performance from Irene Serini) stays at home to care for husband Giovanni (Sergio Leone) who is in a coma. She soon discovers ‘Virtual Life’, a way in which coma patients are able to live a digital world which responds to their desires. But when Giovanni’s sojourn into Virtual Life leads to a shocking occurrence, Anna – and Giovanni – begins to reassess the nature of their relationship and the real truth that lies at their hearts.

Giuffrida is constantly playing with perspective throughout the film. The very beginning sees Anna walk from one room to another and, in the course of one shot, the camera catches sight of Giovanni walking up the stairs and proceeds to follow him. Only a few moments later, we understand that Giovanni is now in a coma and Anna is caring for him. The film constantly plays with time and space to make us question the reality of what we are seeing. The use of a record player as a central motif – an object that has a space in the past and the present day – alongside some gentle hints of a future setting give the film a timeless feel. Certainly, on a technical level, it is often a very impressive affair thanks to strong direction and some quietly opulent set design.

But on occasion it feels like the film is trying to bite off more than it can chew. There are constant narrative revelations that are given little or no room to breathe and subtle ambiguity sometimes threatens to tip over into narrative contrivance and audience frustration.  It is a rare occasion when you actually wish that the film was longer to let it more fully examine the myriad of ideas that it clearly wants to explore. Notions of fidelity, aging and technology are all explored amongst other things and – while it just about manages to hang together – it does strain at the seams.

Despite its over-reaching ambition, While You’re Sleeping does remain an often intriguing metaphor for human relationships. As with Giovanni’s virtual life, humans can often find themselves at the whim of their desires. These desires can also mean that relationships can become clogged with lies and deceit ensuring that – like our perspective of the protagonist’s lives – the true nature of reality can often be hard to distinguish.

While You’re Sleeping screened in the international competition of Ca’ Foscari Short Film Festival in Venice.

Courtesy of Ca’ Foscari Short Film Festival

Country: Italy
Original Title: Mentre Dormi
Language: Italian
Year: 2019
Run time: 22 mins
Director: Francesca Giuffrida
Cast: Irene Serini, Sergio Leone
Screenplay: Mattia Ghiselli, Federico Melia
DOP: Filippo Attanasio
Editors: Alessandro Valenti, Lorenzo De Mari
Music: Filippo Ripamonti
Sound: Tommaso Manni, Maria Sarzilla, Davide Scurto
Producers: Filippo Geri, Irene Cotroneo