Neil Young’s Film Lounge – I’m Not Scared

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

I’M NOT SCARED

6/10

Io non ho paura : Italy (Ity-Spn-UK) 2003 : Gabriele SALVATORES : 101 mins

  

*** WARNING : REVIEW CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS ***

  

Italy suffered an epidemic of kidnappings in the 1970s, which spread from Sardinia to the mainland. Typically, wealthy children from the north were seized by anonymous desperadoes from poor parts such as Sardinia or Calabria in the far south. In the peak year of 1975, more than 80 men, women or children were held to ransom. Many of the victims were never again seen alive.

Peter Popham, The Independent, 22nd June 2004

Southern Italy, the hot summer of 1978. Playing in the fields that surround his remote rural hamlet, 9-year-old Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) stumbles across a child imprisoned in an underground hole. Initially terrified, Michele makes repeat visits and gradually befriends the boy, Filippo (Mattia Di Perro). Michele gradually pieces together how and why Filippo ended up in the hole – and realises that among the guilty parties are his own mother (Aitana Sanchez Gijon) and father (Dino Abbrescia)…

Salvatores aims for an ambitious combination of Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter and Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive: a child’s perspective on traumatic, adult-world events they can only partly comprehend. The results falls somewhat short, ending up closer to Respiro: isolated Italian village setting (full of dialect – wonkily rendered by conspicuously Yank subtitling : “Mom”, etc); focus on boy who doesn’t quite fit in with his pals. And it’s the very familiar kind of coming-of-age material so beloved of film-makers, especially in the arthouse/film-festival sphere.

But the film is atmospherically handled (widescreen cinematography by Italo Petriccione), with particularly strong work from Di Perro in his all-too-brief appearances as the hapless Filippo. The main problems lie in the screenplay by Niccolo Ammaniti and Francesca Marciano, based on Ammaniti’s best-selling novel. The thriller plot gradually “develops” in fits and starts, propelled along by moments of genuine tension. But nuts-and-bolts aspects of the storytelling haven’t quite been worked out: we keep snagging on implausibilities, plot-holes, coincidences, contrivances, gaps. The finale is especially troubling, with an implausible near-tragedy and the cops showing up at precisely the right (or rather wrong, for the villains) moment.

Ammaniti and Marciano rely on the old get-out that all faults/flaws are justifiable because this is a fairytale-ish story told from a child’s perspective: see also In America and Chocolat. As his Hunter/Beehive models show, however, there’s no reason why a film can’t work on both levels and create a hermetic reality to which the audience will happily submit. That never quite happens here, partly because the intrusive music (Pepo Scherman & Ezio Bosso) often jerks us out of the magical mood Salvatores is trying to spin. We’re all too aware that the snakes, beetles and owls that observe from the sidelines have been prodded into position by an unseen wrangler.

28th June, 2004
(seen 22nd June : Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne : public show)

by Neil Young