Combustible Celluloid
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With: Giuseppe Cristiano, Dino Abrescia, Anita Sanchez-Gijon, Diego Abatantuono, Giorgio Careccia, Antonella Stefanucci, Riccardo Zinna, Diego Abatantuono
Written by: Niccolo Ammaniti, Francesca Marciano, based on a novel by Niccolo Ammaniti
Directed by: Gabriele Salvatores
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing images and language
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 101
Date: 02/08/2003

I'm Not Scared (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Pit Crew

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If we mention certain film industries by country, you can get a general picture of what kind of film we're talking about. Many Iranian films tend to be vividly realistic and leisurely, many Hollywood movies are often stupid and mass-produced, many Hong Kong films have great, poetic kung-fu scenes and French films are brainy and with a lot of sex.

But Italian films are harder to pin down. From that same country we've had the Neo-Realism of Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, while Luchino Visconti and Federico Fellini took realism into new visions of grandeur. We've had Michelangelo Antonioni's wide-open spaces accentuating ennui. We've also had genre pioneers like horror masters Mario Bava and Dario Argento and Western masters like Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci.

More recently, we've had sweet films from Guiseppe Tornatore like Cinema Paradiso and Malena and high-minded slapstick films from Roberto Benigni.

Director Gabriele Salvatores (Mediterraneo) is inspired by all of these various sources. His new film I'm Not Scared deals with some elements of realism, some of Fellini's grotesque coming-of-age style, and some of Mario Bava's sheer horror.

Salvatores lays these elements side-by-side in his new film, and they don't always gel. But, taken as a whole, I'm Not Scared comes across as a weirdly entertaining coming-of-age tale.

Ten year-old Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) and his friends love to play in the tall grass in their home village located in Southern Italy, circa 1978. The endless wheat fields with stalks coming up to their necks, provide intoxicating pleasure in games of running, rolling or just plain relaxing.

During one of their romps, the friends happen upon an abandoned building. Michele peels back a layer of corrugated tin covering a pit of some kind -- and spots a human foot poking out from under a blanket.

Has Michele found a corpse, or something even more sinister? Part of the movie's pleasure is finding out, and so I won't say. But the film can't keep its energy going based on one secret alone, so it ups the ante to include Michele's paranoid version of the grown-up world.

His father (Dino Abrescia) keeps running out for all-day errands, and keeps shifting his mood from playful jesting to hurtful berating. Michele's mother (Anita Sanchez-Gijon) seems alternately sad and angry, as if the life she's ended up with is tying her down. Worse, a stranger has come to stay, a beefy, sweaty man (Diego Abatantuono) who camps out in Michele's room.

It all connects in a lovely and terrifying way, though the movie includes a coda that feels tacked on and drains some of the icy energy from the rest of the work.

Adapted by screenwriters Niccolo Ammaniti and Francesca Marciano from Ammaniti's novel, I'm Not Scared still has enough gusto to succeed. Salvatores always has some visual angle working, such as his wide-open view of the Italian landscape drenched in blinking sun juxtaposed with the creepy, dank hole whose edges never fully register in the peripheral vision. It's a film that admits that childhood is not all puppies and playtime; its irrational fears and unfulfilled wants and unanswered questions. Yet it's a child who, despite the fear, can easily find hope.

DVD Details: Miramax's DVD is as stripped-down as it gets. The only thing you can get at home that you couldn't get in the theater is optional Spanish subtitles.

Best Buy Co, Inc.