With The Ciambra, writer-director Jonas Carpignano focuses his attentions on a Romani community living just outside of Calabria, Italy. The film revolves around 14-year-old Pio Amato (Pio Amato) and his large extended family — most of whom, including Pio, are played by non-professional members of the real-life Amato family. Pio smokes and drinks and hustles where he can. He has an aptitude for petty theft, with a nose for sniffing out opportunities and the steely nerve necessary to pull them off. He’s no teenage rebel though. When his older brother and father are sent to prison, Pio takes to the streets in order to prove himself and provide for his family — his mother admonishes him, but takes the money regardless.
The film is executive produced by super-cinephile Martin Scorsese, and it’s been suggested that Carpignano is working in the celebrated Italian neo-realist tradition here. It’s true that the performers bring a naturalism and money-can’t-buy intimacy to the film, but the director isn’t afraid to edit Pio’s criminal escapades for suspense or overlay Italian pop music to heighten the mood. Carpignano and his cast capture the everyday rhythms of life in the Romani community with skill, carefully articulating the perspective of a group who see themselves eking out a living in tension with the Italians who run the local criminal enterprises and the African migrants living in a refugee camp.
There’s no doubt that this is an impressive work and it brims with a sense of life and humanity — Carpignano’s decision to use non-professionals is vindicated by the energy generated around a kitchen table or in a party scene where a group of Ghanaian migrants cheer on their national football team — but it’s hard not to feel a slight twinge of disappointment as the film enters its final act. For most of the runtime, the The Ciambra feels purposefully loose and observational, but the heart-wrenching finale ties things up too neatly, laying bare the extent to which the films stray strands are in fact precision-tooled parts of a carefully laid melodrama.
Note: the film will be accompanied by a Spoken Word performance before the 15:10 screening on Saturday 16th June, whilst the screening at 20.20 on Tuesday 19th June will be introduced by Maggie Hoffgen, freelance film educator.