Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 06, 2012 12:00 pm 
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Boychild finds father, in Rome

In this smooth, feel-good coming-of age cum midlife crisis story, a boy finds his father and in the process they both grow up a little. We might wish a little more had been attempted, but this mentoring story is a pleasant enough re-cooking of a familiar theme in Roman sauce. The two main characters are tutor and pupil. But when the boy's mother Giovanna (Paola Tiziana Cruciani) gets a job in Africa, she reveals to tutor Bruno (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) that he's father of the boy Luca (Filippo Scicchitano) and Bruno agrees to let Luca live with him in her absence.

Bruno has a kind of disheveled past-it handsomeness, with his reading glasses, hand-rolled cigarettes, and shabby-chic duds, but it's Luca who steals the show. He's a baby-faced hunk who talks only in salty Roman tough-kid slang, and walks around the flat in bikini briefs. The plot involves a lot of Latin lessons -- with reverence to Aeneas as a symbol of filial loyalty -- plus Luca's tricky run-in with a gangster called The Poet (Vinicio Marchioni of Romanzo Criminale, sharp and memorable in a brief role), who at a crucial moment turns out to remember Bruno fondly as his teacher. A not-so-gripping side plot involves Bruno's ghost writing for Tina (Barbora Bobulova), a former porn star who turns out to be as lonely as he is and, wouldn't you know it? They both just want to cuddle. As for Luca, of course he needs some structure in his life. He's full of confidence, to a fault. He's funny and may even be kind of smart.

Luca and Bruno had a good rapport to begin with, the boy regarding his tutor as a WTF kindred spirit. It's when Bruno meets with Luca's teacher at school and learns he's likely to flunk that he gets serious, but it's not till they've been through a couple of scrapes together that the affection develops. The most original, if carelessly staged, sequence is the one in which Luca enters The Poet's posh modern house and steals stuff from him, while The Poet is discussing the arts with his underlings and preparing a group "CineClub" viewing of "the great Truffaut's" The 400 Blows. He's just bought a Schnabel. Who knew that Roman gangsters were cluture vultures, collecting Eighties superstar artists and reciting lines from Pasolini?

As Luca, newcomer Filippo Scicchitano is utterly believable. It's a smooth and engaging performance, and as one Italian critic put it, "the boy of the streets is in his veins," and I too hope to see him soon in other roles. When he walks he swaggers a little like Pasolini muse Ninetto Davoli, but he's of a greater physicality, more athletic, beefier and less goofy. He does impressively in a boxing scene, which is when Luca and his mates are introduced to a gangster. The tattooed boxer Luca fearlessly goes into the ring with works for The Poet, and wants the boys to sell drugs to their classmates. Scicchitano steals the show, but this is not to say that Bentivoglio isn't perfect for his role as the jaded former intellectual and loner. Can we guess that there's a chunk of Bruno in director Francesco Bruni, who has a ton of writing credis prior to this directorial debut? That was true of the Roman Gianni Di Gregorio, also a long-time Italian film writer who turned late to directing. But Di Gregorio stayed much closer to home and came up with a little classic, Mid-August Lunch. This doesn't get there. It's premise is too much of a cliché. But it's still a fun watch and is notable for the introduction of Italian rap into the otherwise light and airy musical background.

Scialla!, 95min, screenplay by Bruni from a story by Giambattista Avellino, debuted at Venice in September 2011, opening its Controtempo Italiano section, devoted to "new trends" in Italian cinema. (The new trend would be the street talk and the hip hop, not the Good Will Hunting plotline.) Bruni's last job was writing the screenplay for Italy’s Oscar contender The First Beautiful Thing, directed by Paolo Virzì. The film showed at some other festivals, with a Nov. 18, 2011 Italian release. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series of Nov. 11018, 2012, with showings Thurs., Nov. 15, 9:00 pm and Sat., Nov. 17, 4:00 pm, both at Landmark's Embarcadero Cinema in San Francisco.

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