Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 02, 2022 3:26 pm 
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A girl adopted by cousins is returned to her poor country parents at the age of thirteen and has to adapt

Giuseppe Bonito's third outing as a director is a film adaptation of the 2017 Premio Campiello-winning, bestselling novel L’Arminuta (the original film title) by Donatella Di Pietrantonio, which was translated into English by Ann Goldstein, the translator of Elena Ferrante. The story works well on screen because of the simple narrative structure and the clarity with which it is filmed. It transpires in 1975, mainly ih the rural part of Italy's Abruzzo region east of Rome; the title "L'Arminuta" is Abruzzese dialect for "the returned one," and it refers to the young teen protagonist.

An Italian review site, MyMovies, explains that after the Sixties Italian economic boom, town and city life had speeded up, but in the country a "heavy backwardness" persisted. Hence the custom, which the author says still persists, of farming out children from country to town. This time "L'Arminuta" (Sofia Fiore), a poised, tall girl with long red hair, at the age of 13 is brutally "returned" to a harsh life with her biological family that she has never known. The film unreels scenes of this shocking new life.

Well educated and raised as a cosseted only child, "L'Arminuta" learns her "mother" was her aunt. Now she must sleep in one room with two brothers and two sisters, all uneducated, and expected to do farm chores or day labor. At the table, nobody speaks. Finally her birth mother (the perpetually sad Vanessa Scalera, whose downturned mouth is like Jeanne Moreau's) explains some things. why the girl has been "returned," like a package in the mail, doesn't come out till later, and can never really be justified. But there is soon fun in an aerial ride at a country fair where the 18-year-old older brother, Vicenzo (Andrea Fuorto) wants to run off again with the gypsies who operate it, for which his father smacks him and whips him with his belt.

Vincenzo develops an inappropriate interest in "Larminuta." Fuorto makes the sweetest of incestuous predators - whom tragedy prevents from going too far. Younger sister Adriana (Carlotta De Leonardis) bonds with "L'Arminuta" and looks up to her. They sleep in the same bed head-to-toe. At 10, Adriana is still a bed-wetter, but for "L'Arminuta" this relationship is sustaining. So is the fact that at the local school, "L'Arminuta" winds up being the best student, winning a financial prize for writing a science fiction story - about 'an alien,' like her, also a compensation.

Our expectation of a grim Dickensian tale is deceived from the start with the sequences of fairground fun and later a bright-colored seaside visit with Vincenzo and Adriana, to near where the girl grew up. She finances it with one of the envelopes of money her adoptive mother Adalgisa (Elena Lietti) sends her - but never a note. True, "L'Arminuta's" birth parents' have an impoverished life; but it's not that impoverished. They have a tiny car, for instance. The way in which a visit with Adriana to her adoptive mother and her new husband, with their new baby, puts paid to that whole episode is elegantly ironic and neat - as befits this film's short, economical novel source. And this is a neat, economical movie. It was the only Italian film included in its year's Rome Film Festival.

It's awkward to have to keep repeating "L'Arminuta," but the author, Donatella Di Pietrantonio, wants to hammer home her point that this "package" girl, shipped back and forth, has been robbed of a real identity. In "Goodreads," where everyone is admiring of the book, someone thinks the protagonist deserved a name. Another issue, apropos of the incestuously predatory older brother, is, who is this written for? You can't put that in a YA novel, someone says. It's in limbo, like its protagonist.

The bright, pictorial cinematography is by Alfredo Betrò. Monica Zapelli collaborated with the author on the screenplay, which captures the economy and richness the "Goodreads" contributors speak of. Their success is marked by the fact that this movie feels short and swift despite being close to two hours long.

A Girl Returned/L'Arminuta, 110 mins., debuted at Rome Oct. 15, 2021, and won the David di Donatello Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. It was screened for this review as part of Lincoln Center's Open Roads: New Italian Cinema festival, June 2-15, 2022, where it will be shown Jun. 11 at 2:45 and Jun. 14 at 6:30.

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