2018, NR, 118 min. Directed by Jonas Carpignano. Starring Pio Amato, Damiano Amato, Francesco Pio Amato, Iolanda Amato, Koudous Seihon, Patrizia Amato, Rocco Amato.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Feb. 9, 2018
There's a time in every boy's life when he wants to follow in his father's footsteps. In the case of Pio (Pio Amato), the family business means stealing cars, copper, electricity.
A Ciambra is a sequel of sorts to director Jonas Carpignano's 2015 refugee drama Mediterranea. Now Burkinabe migrant Ayiva (Seihon), whose hard walk to a better life was the center of the first film, slides into the background, and Pio, the Romani kid with whom he crossed paths, is the protagonist. Or rather, he hopes to be. Playing a somewhat fictionalized version of himself, the 14-year-old is forced into his inheritance prematurely when his father Rocco (the real Rocco Amato) and brother are busted for heisting cars.
As Romani, even though Pio's family lives in Calabria in southern Italy, they see themselves as outsiders. "We're eating like Italians," elder brother Cosimo (Damiano Amato, playing his own real-life twin brother) proclaims when the family has pasta for dinner. But there is a hierarchy, and even though they are near the bottom (well below the Italians, and especially the mob), there are still the African migrants like Ayiva for the family to berate and demean – except for Pio, to whom Ayiva has become a kind of big brother.
Carpignano’s first film had an inherent narrative flow, as Ayiva traveled across the sea and tried to build something like a life in the refugee camp in Gioia Tauro. Pio's travails are much more formless, as he hustles small grifts and thefts to keep the family solvent (plus a little bit for himself). He's a teen playing a man, and in this low-key, naturalistic drama Pio's restraint is an extraordinary boon.
Young Pio’s ease in front of the camera – in no small part due to Carpignano’s dedication to catching the nuances of life in the Ciambra, and his long, immersive research and shooting process – is never quite enough to make the story catch fire. At least, not until the closing act, when the young man is forced to consider his loyalties. Until then, this depiction of a hardscrabble life is intriguing rather than engrossing, and that’s a little disappointing. The director avoids turning this into some form of misery tourism, which would be a real risk in less adept hands: yet the story is told with such a uniform tone that it’s hard to remain emotionally engaged. That he’s speaking out for a disenfranchised community is laudable enough: But perched somewhere between the stylized grit of a Pedro Costa, and the lo-fi emotion of a Ken Loach, Carpignano is undoubtedly still finding his voice.