"I'm Not Scared" (Io Non Ho Paura)
Dir: Gabriele Salvatores

Patricia Ducey

Summer 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.

Now 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).

We 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.

One 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.

But 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.

I’m 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.

-- Patricia Ducey

Copyright Web del Sol, 2004

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