On June 6th the Italian film festival Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2019 will open in New York City. The festival offers American audiences a diverse lineup of Italy’s best contemporary films, a blend of new talent and esteemed veterans like Paolo Sorrentino.
The festival will open with Claudio Giovennasi’s film Piranhas (Italian: La Paranza dei bambini). The film is based on the novel by Roberto Saviano, who also co-wrote the screenplay. It is a hauntingly real portrayal of the youth in Naples’ crime scene. The film was presented at the last edition of the Berlin film festival.
Piranhas represents something that Italy stands for, especially in American eyes, the Camorra, the mafia scene in Naples. Giovannesi, however, shows that there is much more behind the Mafia story that we all know so well.
It’s a twisted coming of age story of a young, very likable boy named Nicola, played by Francesco di Napoli. Nicola is a handsome 15 year old boy with an intoxicating Italian charm, who inevitably drifts into the mafia scene. A central theme of the movie is Choice. Does he have a choice? Does anyone in the neighborhood have a choice?
Nicola’s intentions are noble. “We’re decent guys”, he says to the girls they pick up on the street. Taking over the neighborhood would mean to stop the extortion, to stop taking protection money from the poor vendors at the local market and to take care of the people. But this dream is not as easy as it seems, even among his own friends there will always be one who gets carried away by the thirst for power.
At the center of all is money and guns. The little boys are being used by the big mafia bosses to carry out their deeds. The mafia bosses know the boys have no choice. It is the best way to earn money for them. When the mafia boss invites the boys to come to a wedding with him and to buy them “suits”, they are ecstatic. As it turns out, the suits are waiter’s uniforms and the boys are working for the evening. They are completely at the mercy of their bosses and there is nothing they can do.
In the end the group of boys is no different than any other group of boys in the world. All they really want is to prove their manhood. They are dreaming of Daytona watches, Nike shoes, t-shirts for 200 dollars and clubs where you pay 500 dollars for a table to impress the girls. These status symbols are universal.
The film is beautifully shot by Claudio Giovannesi. The cast is made up of local youths and non-professionals, a practice that is evocative of old neo-realist films like The Bicycle Thief. The gang of young boys is brilliantly captured. They are very Italian in their mannerisms, speaking in dialect, and the camera captures them very realistically. We see a wealth of action shots of the boys running through the alleys or on their scooters. Most of the shots are in close-up, bringing immediacy to the story and making the viewer feel that he is right there in the street of Naples with the boys.
Piranhas is only one of the movies to look forward to at the 2019 Open Roads series. From the surrealist satire Loro about the fall of Berlusconi by Oscar winning director Paolo Sorrentino, to the auteur period drama Capri-Revolution by Mario Martone, the festival covers a lot of different genres and filmmakers. Laura Luchetti brings a beautiful and intimate story of two teenagers united in grief with her film Twin Flower and Edoardo De Angelis shows a strong story of a woman desperately fighting to escape the criminal underworld in his film of The Vice of Hope. Some of the documentaries featured this year are The Disappearance of the Mother by Beniamino Barrese, a portrayal of his mother, Benedetta Barzini, a famous model in the Sixties. Adele Tulli questions genre definitions and “normality” in her documentary Normal, and Fabrizio Corallo brings a bit of nostalgia with his documentary Sono Gassman! Vittorio re della commedia about Italian icon Vittorio Gassman.
What better place to bring Italian cinema to New York than at the Lincoln Center?
For a list of the full program click here.