Flight of the Innocent
1993, R, 105 min. Directed by Carlo Carlei. Starring Manuel Colao, Fererico Pacifici, Sal Borgese, Francesca Neri, Jacques Perrin.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 28, 1994
Ten-year-old Vito (Colao) lives in Calabria, in southern Italy, a place where the sun bakes sleepy villages populated by farmers, sheepherds, and kidnappers. His family is one of those who regularly derives income from kidnapping the children of wealthy northern families, but when his father brutally kills two members of a rival family, the vengeance is swift, merciless, and extremely bloody. Young Vito's entire family is massacred, and he, alone, is left to fend for himself against the chief assassin, a hideously scarred maniac who pursues the boy with a religious zeal, never stopping, never resting. Rightfully terrified, the boy makes his way to Rome to hide with his cousin, a worldly fellow who, like Vito, longs to put the family business behind him and move on to more sane opportunities. Meanwhile, the boy is haunted by flickering television images: entreaties from the parents of a kidnapped boy whom he has seen, dead in a Calabrian cave. Director Carlei opens the film with an astonishing bloodbath straight out of Peckinpah or Leone -- plenty of slow motion slaughter alongside repeated close-ups of grit-stained faces and tired eyes -- and then takes it in an almost spiritual direction. From the beginning, it's understood that this young boy is consciously attempting to break free from the chains of a horrible familial tradition. Instead of thinking about kidnapping and the like, he lies on the ground, staring up into the sky, and daydreams about being a hawk, soaring into the blue. Adults, it seems, are utterly insane, and he wants no part of it, despite the fact that, in the words of his cousin's partner in crime, he has “the same blood, the same flesh. It's in you.” Carlei (this is his debut film) has crafted a peculiar chase film here: not only is Vito being pursued by a vengeful killer, but also by a destiny he may not be able to escape. It's a wonderfully lyrical juxtaposition, and cinematographer Raffaele Mertes does a brilliant job, imbuing the film with the rich, natural tones of Calabria, and then with the stark, foreboding shadows of modern Rome. It's one of the better debuts I've seen in a while, full of lasting images and a touch of the classic Italian art film, but it's also a harried, thrilling chase across the unknown country of a boy's heart.