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Io non ho paura (I'm Not Scared)
Reviewed by
Carla Freccero
Aired 5/25 and 5/26, 2004

Io non ho paura (I'm Not Scared) is a new Italian movie directed by Gabriele Salvatores (who also did Mediterraneo), and based on a novel by Niccolò Ammaniti about a kidnapping that happened in 1978. In the late seventies, such kidnappings of the rich were not uncommon in Europe, and this movie does not really delve into any of the possible politics of the phenomenon. Rather, it makes it pretty much about straightforward greed and hints-though it doesn't make explicit-that this is an old-fashioned Sicilian small potatoes cosa nostra-type scheme. Giuseppe Cristiano is Michele, a ten year-old boy who lives in a pretty isolated village somewhere in southern Italy (Calabria? Sicily?), and cares for his younger sister as the gang of kids roam the wheat fields looking for trouble. We find out early on that he is sensitive to the cruelty of others and that he has a sense of responsibility toward his sister. He is honorable and quite courageous.

These qualities, as it turns out and as we suspect from the very beginning, distinguish him from both of his parents, the astonishingly beautiful Aitana Sánchez-Gijón (Anna) and his sort of sleazy father, Pino (played by Dino Abbrescia). I didn't like either actor-they seemed confused about how to be good people and monsters at the same time. Basically, Anna is a frustrated and unhappy coward, loves her children but doesn't have the gumption to stand up to her husband. Pino loves his son, yes, we get that, but he is a weak and bad man. The interesting thing is that the movie succeeds in conveying to the audience the point that the parents love their son and have passed on to him, perhaps, the courage to stand up for what's right even though they can't. I guess that's a psychological achievement for a film.

Michele finds the kidnapped kid in a cellar near an abandoned stone house in the wheat field, and befriends him. When we first meet Filippo (played by Mattia Di Pierro), we think we are going to be part of a gothic horror tale-the kid is covered in sores, dirty, blind, experiencing hallucinations. But it doesn't turn out that way. I admit I found myself wondering how the kid could look so battered while in actuality being more or less ok, just as I kept wondering how the thugs who kidnapped him-and seem pretty ineffectual and harmless most of the time-could so abuse a ten year-old. And all the while, the politics gnaw at the back of one's mind, the politics of rich and poor. Of course, it's not the kid's fault that he's the son of rich Milanese parents, and when the two 10 year-olds get together, boyhood becomes the great equalizer, negating the difference between privilege and poverty. But the movie does nothing to show us that anyone understands the material inequalities that give rise to the situation and, as such, ends up mystifying as a kind of general human suffering a very specific situation.

The plot has a surprise ending, though friends of mine told me they knew what was going to happen pretty early on, and the movie ends up being a morality tale with a huge dose of "heartwarming." I found myself frustrated that recent history was being so thoroughly re-written, and by a cinematic tradition that is usually a lot more leftist than American filmmaking tends to be. But it's still a good story, neat, compact, well told. The children-acting here in most if not all cases for the very first time-are excellent actors, each and every one. They do a fine job-much better than the adults-of making this a believable story. Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.