‘I’m Not Scared’ is a dark, thrilling coming-of-age tale

Giuseppe Cristiano fights to escape killers in 'I'm Not Scared'
Giuseppe Cristiano fights to escape killers in ‘I’m Not Scared’

Childhood is simplicity. At least it should be. And for some the transition into adulthood can be confusing and exciting. In the case of Italian-made thriller, I’m Not Scared, that transition is sudden and dramatic.

This compelling film is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and deliberately paced. The cinematography is soft and colorful, filled with the hills of southern Italy. It takes place in a speck of a town populated by only a dozen people and their children. But the small, idyllic town is only a cover for corruption, as 10-year-old Michele quickly discovers.

The contrast between childhood innocence and impending adulthood is expressed in the opening sequence. A simple race is soon twisted into something more adult and sexual, when the loser — a girl — is told that she must expose herself as a consequence for being the “rotten egg”. But Michele soon comes to her rescue, and is quickly forced to walk a wooden plank across a broken floor on the second story of a run down house.

While potentially dangerous, Michele turns it into a comic book-like adventure, imaging himself a superhero facing deadly foes.

However, the deadly truth of the world and it’s shades of grey soon break into young Michele’s world when he discovers a small boy hidden in a large hole in the ground near the house. He eventually learns that the very people he trusts most, his parents, are participants in a conspiracy to kidnap and possibly kill the young boy. As a result, he must choose to either allow the boy he’s come to call friend to die, or save him and betray his family.

Giuseppe Cristiano in 'I'm Not Scared'
Giuseppe Cristiano in ‘I’m Not Scared’

A dark, thrilling film, I’m Not Scared is also a coming of age story that never tries to be a slick, Hollywood movie. The pace is measured, taking its time as it guides you through the main character’s journey to adulthood. And while the editing and storytelling may leave some viewers feeling a little deflated at the end, because it lacks the hyperspeed-like movement most commonly seen in action films today, it is no less powerful and moving.

When we meet Michele, played with natural talent by Giuseppe Cristiano, he’s a dreamer. A young kid who makes up stories about the things he experiences. When he first discovers the young boy in the hole, he dreams up a story that he is his brother, long hidden by his parents. When he discovers the truth, his daydreaming ways are soon forgotten. He no longer dreams up stories as he struggles to understand why his parents would be involved in something so terrible.

Visually, the film is light and innocent at the beginning. Beautiful Italian landscapes are highlighted with golden wheat fields. But as the story unfolds, the night soon becomes more prominent.

However, as much as the story is compelling, the characters are left rather undeveloped. To an extent, I thought this was refreshing, as the filmmakers didn’t feel the obligation to spell everything out. The motivations for the parents to involve themselves in the kidnapping is subtly explained, but we do not know how they were involved. We see very little of their relationship, and the rest of the kidnapping gang is only marginally shown.

The story is told specifically through the eyes of Michele, which makes it logical that we would only learn so much about the crime. But in the end you’re left with a lot of unanswered questions. What you get are only bits and pieces, which you are left to piece together on your own.

While I don’t see this as a negative, it did mean that none of the characters are really explored. Even the child, while he experiences a loss of innocence, doesn’t necessarily change. From the very beginning we see Michele as a strong individual, not to be taken by peer pressure and clearly not afraid to stand up for what is right. He does so at the beginning, and he does so at the end.

The only change comes in the situation. At the beginning, he’s standing up against a bullying child. At the end, he’s standing up against his parents and their murderous compatriots. While the situation becomes more serious, there is no real arc for Michele, as he simply stays true to himself.

Beyond the visuals and the story, what really impressed me most about this film was the acting. Giuseppe Cristiano was outstandingly natural. The same can be said about all the children. The adults also delivered strong performances, but Cristiano stands out most since he’s the main character. From his body language to how he delivered his dialogue, everything seemed to simply flow from him. He wasn’t simply acting the part, he was the part. It is rare to see such talent in someone so young, and he deserves all the praise one can grant an actor.

The biggest disappointment here is the DVD itself. While the film is presented flawlessly, and the sound is terrific, the DVD is quite bare. No features, no documentaries, no commentary. This comes as a rather big disappointment because I was very curious to learn more about the film. I would have liked to have heard the director discuss the project, or learn more about how the film was made.

I don’t always get this curious about a movie, but with this one my interest was piqued. And sadly, the DVD did not offer anything to satisfy my curiosity.

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