Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 04, 2022 8:41 am 
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The zoftig girl is not happy so she runs away with a fair

The feeble outsider-bonding picture Swing Ride/Calcinclo, the director Chiara Bellosi's second feature, fails either to achieve verisimilitude or to entertain; both characters and action are underdeveloped. The main trouble is the fifteen-year-old protagonist, an overweight girl called Benedetta (Gaia Di PIetro). The film doesn't define her situation clearly or work up enough sympathy for her. Benedetta's situation certainly feels sad. Like so many teenagers, she doesn't fit in. On the other hand Di Pietro seems perfectly comfortable in her body. Her mother takes her to a doctor at the beginning. The camera closeups on her body seem to want to make her seem monstrous. Later, when she appears head to toe, she seems both attractive and at ease in her body; still later she turns out to be a great dancer and a fast runner. Smaller kids yell mocking epithets at her from a distance once. But what her life is like at school there are no scenes to tell us. Clearly, she hides away in her room before she meets the outsider she bonds with.

Early on Benedetta's mother has her being weighed and given a strict diet. When the rest of the family noshes down at dinner, Benedetta gets a small salad she only picks at. At night she raids the fridge and consumes a whole package of raw chicken (happily we are spared seeing this play out). Yet earlier it's stated (1) that the problem's not hormones and (2) that she doesn't eat that much. This ill-definied situation is simply dropped, as the later plot line comes into play, the outsider-bonding.

But first comes the frustrating, inadequate family portrait. Mom, Anna (Barbara Chichiarelli) is resentful because she claims getting pregnant with Benedetta robbed her of the opportunity to become a professional dancer. Anna is a scrawny, disagreeable person. Dad (Giandomenico Cupaiuolo) is simply childish and self-absorbed. He has long supported the family working at a glass business, but his whole interest is in buying old sports cars and restoring them and that's all he talks about at the dinner table.

But the inadequate or cruel parenting, like Benedetta's ill-defined weight and eating problems, falls away after the early scenes when we don't see any more of the family after the traveling fair arrives nearby and Benedetta meets the trans person, Amanda (Andrea Carpenzano), and latches onto him despite his apparent indifference. Symbolically, he bonds by awarding her the largest and prettiest of the fanciful toy butterflies he collects, gifts from somebody we don't meet. Later, he burns the remaining butterflies, no doubt also symbolic, ostensibly of Amanda's unwillingness to get attached to anything.

Especially since Benedetta is lumpish and ill-defined, for whether or not this film works a lot rests on the depiction of Amanda. It's a focused performance, and has been compared to Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, but despite Carpenzano's assurance, he never seems anything but a skinny actor pretending to be a man posing as a woman. (What Amanda does for the fair isn't clear.) The film doesn't allow us to become fully absorbed into Amanda's fantasy, and the flimsy frocks, makeup, and complicated hair remain flimsy, inadequate facades between the fantasy of womanhood and the skinny actor.

The scene when Amanda takes Benedetta on a swing ride at the fair, grabbing her and letting her go over and over, is meant to be uplifting and transformational, but this crucial moment, like so many of the other scenes, fails to soar.

For a while Benedetta runs away with Amanda when the fair picks up to go elsewhere. A scene where Amanda pimps Benedetta out to a man without her knowledge has possibilities because it's energetic and surprising. Otherwise this rather improbable final sequence doesn't go anywhere except to further depict Amanda's ambivalence and trouble showing affection, even after he-she has allowed Benedetta to ride along and even share his/her bed, and the film ends limply, unresolved, as unsatisfactorily as it began.

A German online review finds the treatment of obesity clichéd and offensive and after several moments that distort the depiction of the lead character, after the fridge raiding scene rejected the film completely. This shows how inadequate this film is in depicting the issues it purports to raise. The actors are doing their best. The screenplay by Luca De Bei and Maria Teresa Venditti, despite it's having won won Italy’s prestigious Solinas prize in 2018, doesn't provide them with enough to work with, and Chiara Bellosi's direction is weak. There isn't much material here. Happily, at least, the run-time is short. If the peppy, cheerful music by Giuseppe Tranquillino works for you, maybe you will like this picture.

Swing Ride/Calcinculo, 88 muns. debuted in the Panorama section of the Feb. 2022 Berlinale. It was screened for this review as part of the June 9-15, 2022 FLC-Cinecittà series Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.

Friday, June 10 at 6:00pm (Q&A with Chiara Bellosi)
Monday, June 13 at 1:00pm


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