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  • Writer's pictureMiles Stephenson

Five Hundred Calories (2020) - Montauk Film Festival - Women in Film Night at Solé East

Updated: Jul 29, 2022

At the 3rd annual Montauk Film Festival on Sunday night, I attended the director's panel and screenings of four inventive and sharp shorts: Me Against the World, Monkey Bars, 500 Calories, and Nā Kama Kai (Children of the Ocean). The following is a review of my favorite short from the evening: Five Hundred Calories (2020), written and directed by Cristina Spina, produced by Oliva Serafini-Sauli, and distributed by Zen Movie:

Cristina Spina, an Italian filmmaker based in New York City and Rome, delivered the most visually and thematically striking experience of the night with Five Hundred Calories, a 2020 short about a woman who travels to confront her former ballet teacher for childhood abuse.

Teodoro Maniaci's photography of a shepherd and his flock traversing a country road and a brick villa on a pond serve as the serene backdrop for an existential crisis where protagonist Theresa (played with smoldering tension by Yvonne Woods) delivers a soliloquy about how she was starved down to 500 calories a day at the age of 13 to look the part of a dancer.

In a performance that could have so easily embraced cliché or melodrama, Woods brings a reserved but poignant realism to her abused character; she embodies the tiny emotional inflections of the character, the wrinkles in the brow, the aching voice. Spina herself started her career as a dancer in Rome; no doubt her experience working with some of the top Italian theater directors informed the powerful writing.

Spina and Stefano Mariotti shoot and edit the sequences before the confrontation with such strong composition and timing (like the utensil drop shot transition and the broken picture frame scene) that the pace propels the drama of the story, climbing the tension until the final conflict between Theresa and her teacher. After the police are sent away, the ending is ambiguous, and although I wanted to learn more, perhaps, like Theresa, there's no satisfying conclusion to this tale of wrongdoing and emotional pain.

Beautifully shot, well-acted, and powerfully written (especially the confessional soliloquy) I'm looking forward to seeing what Cristina Spina brings us in the future. It's no surprise that the film won the Cortinametraggio Award for Best Photography, the Tatatu Award by Andrea Iervolino for best short, and the Afrodite Short Award for best theme; it is a strong display of technical and narrative skills, 3.5/5 stars.

Miles Stephenson

Trailer for 500 Calories: WATCH HERE.

This piece was originally published on Nest by Tamara, an interior design and lifestyle journal. The 3rd Annual Montauk Film Festival is happening Saturday, July 23rd to Sunday, July 31st in Montauk, Long Island at various venues. Visit here to learn more.

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