Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I'm Not Scared (Io non ho paura)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 May 2004 at Loews Harvard Square #2 (first-run)

To a child, life in the south of Italy in 1978 appears idyllic. As the movie opens, Michele is running through a field with his friends and little sister, not a care in the world. Yeah, she breaks her glasses, but little sisters do things like that, which is why you have to watch out for them. But even in that first scene, we get a hint of what to come, as we get a glimpse at the nastiness in one of the kids, and the willingness the others have to work with him to humiliate another (this one an overweight girl). Michele stands up to deflect their cruelty from her, but almost too late. As they leave the abandoned house where they were playing, Michele's sister Maria realizes she's lost her glasses. When going back to find them, he finds a hole; looking into that hole, he sees a foot sticking out from under a towel, not moving.

So begins a great little story of how a boy realizes that even the people close to him whom he loves and respects - and who genuinely love him in return - can be capable of doing terrible things. But when you're ten years old, and the people in question are your family and their friends, how can you be sure that it's evil? There are lots of things that parents don't talk about, after all, and this just may be one of them.

The movie does an excellent job of giving a kids'-eye view of the whole situation. Newcomer Giuseppe Cristiano does a fine job making Michele seem intelligent and troubled by what he has seen, aware that something is strange but unable to question what he knows right away. The film is, from what I gather, a faithful adaptation of a first-person novel, so Cristiano must appear in every scene, and the adult interactions are what he sees and overhears, so we need to see them as a ten-year-old would, rather than as an adult member of the audience. Director Gabriele Salvatores manages this nicely, especially in one scene where the town's adults are all in conference, leaving the kids confused and mainly concerned about when they will have their supper.

The most prominent adult roles are given to Dino Abbrescia and Aitana Sánchez-Gijón as Pino and Anna, Michele's parents. In many ways, it is as confusing to the audience as it is to the characters how they can be involved; even though they may seem to worry a little much, they are good parents. We do get an occasional glimpse that this life may not be as charmed as it seems to the children, but it seems nearly as incongruous to us as it does to Michele.

Part of the reason for that is that this movie is gorgeous. Even though Michele's town is a little poor and run-down, the exteriors are filled with warm colors and pleasant imagery. It makes the ugly elements stand out, though even those scenes are well-composed and eye-catching.

There's been some controversy over Miramax marketing this as a thriller rather than a coming-of-age drama. I can see where this aggravation is coming from; even without Miramax's history being peppered with abuses visited upon foreign films, this is clearly not a nail-biter for most of its run-time, but is more introspective. Still, it does fit into both genres, and an intelligent thriller with a ten-year-old as its protagonist is a rarer specimen than a "growing up twenty years ago in a poor region" story. So while the advertising may be deceptive, it's not a lie, and if it gets people to see this movie, good for it.

1 comment:

Ground Zero said...

Nice to read your review of Io Non Ho Paura. I've some psedo-psychological take on this film. To read it visit my blog:

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