Published May 22, 2015For anyone that's ever endured film production classes, wherein watching the pretentious and woefully muddled experiments of misguided classmates is as draining as it is unintentionally funny, Don't Accept Dreams from Strangers will be familiar. It's a visibly low budget indie that tries to make up for its lack of production value — and lack of ideas — by adding contextually murky artistic inserts. Here, amidst the story of a particularly dull and mentally limited swimmer named Massimo (Giuseppe Claudio Insalaco) developing a crush on translator Vladimir (Daniel de Rossi) while competing in Russia, there are an abundance of silent film inserts of a strongman destroying the world around him to save a maiden fair. There's also a good ten minutes of grainy Russian architecture tossed in for good measure.
Initially, Massimo's broad ideals seem like they're going to be put to the test. He asserts through voiceover that physical strength is the only real test of identity and that travel is the only road to personal growth. These amusing assertions are quite common within the lexicon of undergraduate ideals, wherein identity is performed and externalized, which suggests that Massimo's quest is one of realization and emotional maturation.
In a way, director Roberto Cuzzillo fosters this. When Massimo develops a crush on the outspoken and equally vapid Vladimir — a romance that's developed only through a couple of very basic, superficial conversations — his general political perceptions are challenged (sort of). Though the pair is eventually gay-bashed (they're in Russia after all), Vladimir asserts that Putin is really just a big teddy bear with good intentions; he feels the real villain of the world is Barack Obama. Now, it's unclear if having a homosexual Russian say something like this is intended to shock or if it's a dialogue about culturally imposed self-hatred, but based on the hilarious superficiality and basic lameness of everything else pushing this overly mealy and bloated short-film-in-the-format-of-a-feature, it's likely that it's just a shock tactic.
Whether or not Massimo actually grows is never really addressed. Cuzzillo tosses in a clumsy metaphor of Massimo running through the streets to suggest some sort of revelation or freedom, but since nothing insightful or remotely complex has occurred, it's mostly assumed that our protagonist is absolutely floored by the fact that he doesn't know everything there is to know. Really, he's mainly taking away that he can't and shouldn't try to rescue people from a situation he doesn't entirely understand, which isn't a bad thing to assert if handled with a bit of insight.
Unfortunately, no amount of voiceover about Russian history or clumsily inserted and photographically atrocious landscape footage can inject even an inkling of political meaning about queer rights in modern Russia into a film that's really about getting an emaciated slack-jawed Italian boy to take off his clothes and babble about the wonders of minor self-awareness.