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A Ciambra

Feb 5, 2018

In the land of my ancestors, Calabria, a young boy becomes a man. It's real, and it's tough.

A Ciambra

Grade: A-

Director: Jonas Carpignano (Mediterranea)

Screenplay: Carpignano

Cast: Pio Amato, Koudous Seihon

Runtime: 1 hr 58 min

by John DeSando

Don’t expect lovely shots of the Calabrian countryside in Jonas Carpignano’s A Cambria, because this Italian entry for the Oscars is as gritty as gritty gets. The story of Pio’s (Pio Amato) coming of age in an impoverished Romani enclave is told with unremitting neo-realism and a point of view almost exclusively young 14 year-old Pio’s. It’s a companion piece to the director’s Mediterranea and a sequel.

Realism is what made Italian cinema its reputation as far back as Rossellini in the first half of the 20th century. This iteration dares to place the camera almost on Pio’s shoulder to give the sense of everything Pio is seeing and if his decisions are good ones.  It doesn’t get more real than this.

That’s the soul of this powerful, seemingly documentary capture of small-life in Calabria, modern with cells and cars and anything the gypsies can steal and sell. Because his father and brother are imprisoned, Pio becomes responsible for his family, and he pursues the gangster life with natural instincts, and, well, relish.

Moreover, his 15 family members are actor Pio’s real family, providing an unparalleled feel of the real.  His mother, Iolanda, is a piece of Italian motherhood work that by now could be “central casting.”

The writer/director’s treatment is consistent and relentless: an unwavering close up of impoverished gypsy life, at odds with the “Italians” who surround them and at odds with a society that considers them outsiders, thieves, and liers.  The streets are uniformly strewn with garbage, and when a building experiences arson, you are almost ready to say “good riddance.”

Although so many close-ups of Pio become tiresome, no doubt can exist that you will forget this camera-ready actor whose eyes tell you the combat within his soul.

Are you surprised Martin Scorsese is a producer? I’m not. These are the streets he loves to narrate, and they are mean.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com