The stunning setting and bizarre situation make a memorable coming-of-age film.
Harry Potter's adolescent confusion about the appearance of adult morality and the reality of their corruption is nothing compared to young Michele's harrowing discovery and decisions in "I'm Not Scared." Gabriele Salvatores ("Mediterraneo", Oscar winner for best foreign film in 1992) directs this thriller (which Niccolo Ammaniti adapted with Francesca Marciano from Ammaniti's novel) with a Terrence Malick "Days of Heaven" eye for the lush, waving grain of 1978 Southern Italy and a Poe-like treatment of terrible incarceration.
Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) finds another 10-year-old boy, Filippo (Mattia Di Pierro), chained to the bottom of a pit in an abandoned farm. Lacking a sense of the actual horror, Michele returns to strike up a friendship, not apparently aware that a call to the police would be normal. He does find out who has kidnapped the boy, and his life becomes even more complicated as he tries to save the boy while not involving others in his home.
The story is as spare as the land: Michele must commit to saving his new friend while endangering himself. The audience is not privy to his thoughts; his dilemma is mostly represented in other incidents, where, for instance, he decides to aid a helpless playmate harassed by a bully buddy, and visual symbols like a raven and a snake. There are times when the film seems to have only these devices to express the change from innocence to experience. Otherwise, the plot and its crude adults, in action that parallels and intersects Michele's, move to an unexceptional but decidely Spielbergean ending. Michele's advice from his mother to get out of this life is so apropos as not even to register on the originality dial.
Italy was plagued by kidnappings in the 1970's, and boys must grow to be men by making difficult decisions. "I'm Not Scared" adds little to the debate surrounding either except cameras floating through grass and boys confronting adults. However, the stunning setting and bizarre situation make a memorable coming-of-age film for cinephiles and regular viewers who long for more than Potter magic.
Innocence before experience is as always best expressed by William Blake:
For he hears the lambs' innocent call.
And he hears the ewes' tender reply.
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their Shepherd is nigh.