‘A Chiara’ review: Evocative Italian drama struggles with family

At 15 you’re still a baby to some, while to others you’re just old enough to know better. Usually these interested parties are loved ones who have their own reasons for prolonging a loved one’s innocence or accelerating their maturity. But for the outspoken second daughter of a close-knit family in filmmaker Jonas Carpignano’s tough and vibrant Italian drama “A Chiara,” this outpouring of teenage naivety can’t come fast enough.

Dark-haired, sharp-eyed, Chiara (Swamy Rotolo) is in many ways a typical teenager: glued to her phone and her friends, quick with attitude, sneaky with e-cigarettes, and strict about her appearance. Yet she also cherishes what is a cocoon of love and support for her family – from her rambunctious little sister to her soft-spoken, emotional father Claudio (Claudio Rotolo), to the extended clan of their Calabrian seaside town. So when it comes to celebrating the 18th birthday of her older sister Giulia (Giulia Rotolo), Chiara throws herself into the anticipated explosion with great energy and affection. After all, she will receive the same attention and gifts when she reaches this milestone.

But later that night, a car explodes in front of their house and her father disappears. Now, Mom and Giulia’s reassurances sound condescending and hollow, and more unsettlingly suggest an effort to keep Chiara in the dark. The stares and whispers at school are bad enough, but when Chiara realizes how little she knew about her own family – and the crime that dominates their lives – it’s like a hole has opened in her. her world, which she will be forced to ignore, fix or cross.

“A Chiara” is the third feature film by American-born, Italian-based Carpignano. If this is your first encounter with his work, you’re in for a story that’s pretty much evocative and suspenseful in the same compelling vein as the Dardenne brothers’ intimate, propulsive, non-judgmental character studies of despair and the moral. (He won the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight last year.) In this case, anchored by Swamy Rotolo’s authoritarian turn, the filmmaker examines the particularly emboldening outrage of a teenage girl abruptly stripped of her emotional security and unafraid of the consequences that come with his assertion. .

But to know where Carpignano comes from is to see “A Chiara” as a different kind of third film, one that completes an unofficial neorealist trilogy about family and identity in contemporary southern Italy, particularly the port city of mixed culture and controlled by the mafia. Gioia Tauro. His 2015 feature debut, ‘Mediterranea’, centered on a pair of African migrants trying to settle there amidst a hostile reception, while ‘A Ciambra’ (2017) took the point of view of a 14-year-old Roma boy, incredibly opportunistic, part of a group whose exteriority is rooted. The protagonists of these films, Koudous Seihun and Pio Amato, respectively, were Carpignano finds from their communities, and they appear in all three films – although knowledge of their characters is not necessary to follow Chiara’s journey.

Its ‘A Chiara’ star is also new to the movies – first noticed during a casting call for his latest film, he wrote the role with her in mind – and the on-screen family is Rotolo’s. in real life. Such a commitment to local verisimilitude is a sign of how much Carpignano cares about detail in his indie cinematic universe, but he’s also very adept at eliciting rich performances from non-professionals, in addition to ensuring that the ‘feels like a fly on the wall in private spaces.

It’s not that his movies come across as documentaries, though — there’s a dreamy sequence in “A Chiara,” and occasional poetic touches to portable cinematography, music choices and sound design that sound like exteriorizations of Chiara’s inner life. But the best thing about “A Chiara” is its totality of naturalism and subjectivity – how it humanly complicates a teenage girl’s newfound self-possession, so we admire her quest for clarity and consideration for her family, while worrying about how this will affect her decision about her future.

“A Chiara”

In Italian with English subtitles


Operating time: 2 hours, 1 minute

Playing: Begins May 27, Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood

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