- Giuseppe Bonito elegantly films a coming-of-age story in 1970s rural Italy; no sentimentality, but emotions are guaranteed
In Official Selection at the Rome Film Festival, Giuseppe Bonito's L'Arminuta [+see also:
interview: Giuseppe Bonito
film profile] touches deep chords, our fears of abandonment, the bonds that are created with caregivers, the chances that life offers us by asking us to become adults before our time. Based on the bestseller that won the 2017 Campiello Prize by Donatella Di Pietrantonio - who wrote the film's subject and screenplay with Monica Zapelli, maintaining a stylistic and ideal continuity with the novel - the film is about motherhood and the inability to perform the role of mother, about women who are as determined and unstoppable as they are clueless, and about men who are powerless in the face of this courage.
We are in central Italy in the mid-1970s, presumably in the Abruzzo hinterland where the author of this book was born. Poverty and harshness dominate the lives and minds of the locals. A 13-year-old girl (Sofia Fiore) arrives at a farmstead from the city, wearing her little sugar-paper dress and long red hair. Her father accompanies her and she is welcomed by a humble family, consisting of a woman with a sorrowful look (Vanessa Scalera, Stolen Days [+see also:
film profile]), a strict father of very few words (Fabrizio Ferracane, The Peacock's Paradise [+see also:
interview: Laura Bispuri
film profile]), a man bent on working in a stone quarry, and five children. We soon discover that the one who will immediately be called the Arminuta (the "ritornata," the returned, in Abruzzi dialect) is part of that family. She was 'sold' when she was only six months old to a city cousin whose wealthy wife could not have children. Now the woman is ill, her adoptive father does not want to know about her and is returning her like a parcel.
L'Arminuta is shocked by her new situation, by this world in which she is asked to slit a live chicken's throat and sleep in the same room with all her siblings. The only real and strong bond she establishes is with her younger sister Adriana (Carlotta de Leonardis), a girl who seems to be the most lucid of the group and looks after the youngest child. The eldest, Vincenzo (Andrea Fuorto), almost 18, works a day's work in the fields, is a rebel, once ran away with the village carnies and when he is late at night he is belted by his father. Vincenzo sets his sights on his newcomer sister, gives her a necklace stolen from who knows who, and the Arminuta, disturbed and flattered by these attentions, does not refuse the nightly advances and a first kiss. A motorbike accident, almost like a divine punishment for the incestuous relationship, will radically change things.
L'Arminuta starts attending the local school, wins a literary competition with a story about an alien, which is what she feels she is, but she doesn't give up, she doesn't understand why the woman who raised her, who gave her the chance to be something other than a farmhand in the countryside, now rejects her. In the flashbacks the director shows us, we see this woman (Elena Lietti, Three Floors [+see also:
film profile]) on holiday at the seaside, distracted, elusive, and we sense a betrayal of marriage, a desire for motherhood elsewhere. There is no sentimentality but a sense of inevitability in this coming-of-age story set in a moment of social transition in the country, in which the balance between urban and rural is changing and which does not show us the reasons for the moral choices of adults. In his third film, Bonito elegantly directs (the beautiful cinematography is by Alfredo Betrò) this "coming of age," garnishing it with evocative sequences (such as the slow motion in the scene of the flying seats at the village carousel or the run to the sea) and keeping a constant watch on Sofia Fiore's timelessly graceful face. Tears and emotion are assured for audiences over 25.
(Translated from Italian by Manuela Lazic)
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