A Ciambra Challenges the Viewers’ Sense of Privilege, Class, Race, and Immigration
We are globally, and more so as a nation, at a very particular point in history. The things that currently vex us—immigration, race, crime, xenophobia: the film A Ciambra sits unflinchingly at the intersection of all of them. Here, director Jonas Carpignano, who grew up inter-Atlantic between New York and Rome, continues with the many of the same characters first introduced in his debut film Mediterranea. As a filmmaker, Carpignano appears equally influenced by neo-realist masters like Vittorio de Sica (Bicycle Thieves) and Roberto Rossellini (Stromboli) as more contemporary humanists such as the Dardenne brothers (The Kid With A Bike, Two Days One Night).
A Ciambra uses non-actors from the immigrant and refugee communities living on the outskirts of Calabria to tell a story that is barely scripted, sitting somewhere between documentary and fiction. Pio Amato (played by himself) is a 14-year-old from the Romani refugee community, who are learning about how harsh life is on the streets when you are on the margins of society. One of the astounding aspects of this film is to watch the uneasy tension between the adjacent street communities, the Romanis, the Africans, and the local Italians. One would assume that their outsider status would engender comradery, but this is not the case.
The racism that is often discussed is that which is perpetrated by a predominant group toward a minority. Racism between minorities is not something that gets much attention in media or in art; A Ciambra sheds light on this with bitter clarity. Also, the examination of the consequences of the conjunction of immigration and crime is a political landmine, and anything other than an exactingly objective take on this material would have left the filmmakers in a slippery place, having to defend a challenging partisan position. But A Ciambra presents things as they play out in this world and doesn’t submit to any commentary of its own. The viewers have to shape their own commentary to what is being seen on the screen.
After his older brother Cosimo, whom Pio absolutely idolizes, is arrested, Pio takes it upon himself, unasked, to fend for his extended family. What is it about the male instinct that self-imposes this desire as a necessary facet to claiming masculinity? The camera watches Pio navigate through situations that seem untethered from the recognition of our definitions of crime. The film watches Pio with the attentiveness of capturing his ascent from petty crime to something more dangerous. In Pio’s world, there is simply no luxury of moral rectitude.
There are many things I love about this film, but none more than the way this filmmaker refuses judgment at every moment. There is a great scene late in the film that is a perfect example. Pio attempts to burglarize an upscale home. He throws his soccer ball across the fence and when the family leaves in their luxury vehicle, he begs them to reopen the gate so he can retrieve the ball. As they do so, he notes the code to the gate. They leave and he is in their house in a heartbeat, prowling through the darkness. He steals two things: a photograph of the family, and a computer. Why the photograph? And why just those two things? The film doesn’t give a direct answer. Make what you will of it. It might have something to do with the fact that the home belongs to a fellow Romani immigrant, who has clearly made it in life. This may be the first time Pio has seen someone from his own immigrant roots be affluent, and he wants some artifact, some evidence to remind him that he too can make it. As he is leaving the home, Pio gets caught. A lesser film would have had Pio get arrested, and follow the consequences from that outcome. But the homeowner, recognizing Pio as one of his own and perhaps seeing a bit of himself in the boy, drags Pio home to be reprimanded by family. In a film that is relentlessly grounded in the cruelty of the real world, this is perhaps the one minuscule act of generosity it allows.
A Ciambra is not an easy film, but what great film is? It invites every viewer to watch it from the perspective of their own privilege—and to recalibrate their beliefs about class, race, and immigration. If you are a lover of cinema, you owe yourself the treat of watching this gem of a film offered by the San Diego Italian Film Festival.
By Yazdi Pithavala
Lead Reviewer, Moviewallas