is synonymous with adventure and freedom, a holiday from job and
school and all manner of boundaries, a time when people shake off
the shackles of every day life and get into big trouble, if only
temporarily. A California divorceé on vacation buys a ramshackle
farmhouse in Under the Tuscan Sun; a prim mystery writer
gets in way over her head (or does she?) in sexy, sun-drenched Swimming
Pool. But usually these comic or tragic dislocations of ordinary
life turn out just fine come September.
Italian director Gabriele Salvatores (Mediterraneo) gives
us a darker tale, told almost completely from the point of view
of a child, in his fine I’m Not Scared (in Italian
with English subtitles). Francesca Marciano shares writing credit
with Niccolo Ammaniti, who penned the best-selling novel on which
the movie is based (now available in English).
first see ten-year-old Michele pedaling his rickety bicycle through
endless fields of golden wheat in rural Southern Italy. An immense
blue sky overhead and the rippling stalks dwarf him and his friends
as they gambol across the sun drenched countryside. But the wild
landscape of sun and wind and borderless beauty, devoid of any signifier
of adult order, matches the intensity of Michele’s childish
imagination. His world remains still a miasma of equal parts dreams
and comic book heroes and hero worship for his father, a posturing
lout who clearly doesn’t deserve his son’s admiration.
day Michele and his friends come upon an abandoned stone house,
which they immediately transform into a sort of clubhouse, where
they make up a truth-or-dare game. As the game takes a cruel turn,
natural leaders and followers emerge, as well as sadists and moralists,
foreshadowing the corrupt adult world just over the hill. When Michele
later returns to hunt for his little sister’s lost eyeglasses,
he discovers a rusty slab of tin lying on some rubble. What could
be more tantalizing? He pries the lid up; and, as his eyes adjust
to the darkness, he sees a small foot sneaking out from a under
a grimy blanket. He lets fly the tin roof and rushes home in fright.
Curiosity soon gets the better of him, though, and he returns to
befriend the starving, wraith like boy caged in the pit. Reveling
in his exciting new exploit, Michele brings him food and draws him
out, slowly bringing the hallucinating boy back to reality.
things at home begin to take a darker turn. His father welcomes
several menacing “friends” to the home. By stealing
glimpses of television news and watching the adults argue, Michele
eventually puts two and two together: the little boy in the pit
is Filippo (a kidnapped boy), and his father and his gang are holding
Filippo for ransom.
Not Scared, although subtitled and containing some strong images,
will appeal to American viewers tired of “thrillers”
filled with exploding cars and/or Ashley Judd in jeopardy. Except
for a bit of melodrama at the finish, it is an unsparing and satisfying
coming-of-age story nested within an equally compelling mystery/thriller.
The work of Salvatores and cinematographer Italo Petriccione etches
an indelible portrait of childhood, that idyllic time before our
eyes are opened.
Copyright Web del Sol, 2004