Aug 29, 2018
Welcome back to Worldwide Wednesdays. We’re heading to the Italian film scene this week, this time looking at the Romani, pejoratively referred to as gypsies. If you dig the Italian film scene, check out “Forgive Us Our Debts” (Episode #129) and “Fire at Sea” (Episode #151). And if you have any favorites from the Italian film scene, let me know at onemoviepunch.com.
Today’s movie is “A Ciambra” (2017), the Italian drama written and directed by Jonas Carpignano, and produced by Martin Scorsese in collaboration with five other countries. The film follows Pio (Pio Amato), a fourteen year old child learning to survive as a Romani in Calabria, the tip of the boot that makes up the Italian peninsula, home to native Italians, settled Romani, and African migrants. When Pio’s brother Cosimo (Damiano Amato) is arrested by the police after a robbery gone wrong, Pio must do what he can to provide for his family while struggling with becoming an adult.
Jonas Carpignano has developed an impressive shared universe among his last four works. In 2012, he produced “A Chjána”, a short film about a race riot in Southern Italy centered around Ayiva, a migrant from Burkina Faso, played by Koudous Seihon. In 2014, he produced “Young Lions of Gypsy”, a short film about the Romani in the same region centered around Pio, a 14 year old Romani boy, played by Pio Amato. The former short was turned into a feature-length film entitled “Mediterranea” and stars Ayiva, with a supporting role for Pio. The latter short was turned into today’s film, starring Pio, with a supporting role for Ayiva. I found all this out after I saw today’s film, and instead of feeling lost while watching the film, I actually have a deep desire to dive into the other three works.
Carpignano has chosen in all four works to cast actual residents rather than relying on actors, building fictional stories based on very real stories and situations from the cast. It’s why Ayiva understands the migrant life, and why Pio understand the Romani life, and why both understand the complex interplay between their communities on display in this film. Pio serves as our introduction and guide into Romani culture, or at least as his family understands it, given the somewhat fluid nature of their culture. His age places him at a difficult transition, one where he is both eager and reluctant to become a man within the family and their illegal enterprises. We also get to see the dichotomy of settled Romani, a culture built upon migration that struggles for acceptance and integration, and against being exploited by more powerful elements within the community. Carpignano captures all aspects of their life, telling a series of seemingly simple stories that culminate in Pio having to make a choice between friendship and family.
“A Ciambra” is an incredibly well-made and well-acted film, but I also have some concerns about the message, particularly for a somewhat insular and highly misunderstood group of people as the Romani. Generally, their portrayal in film is pejorative at best, and a film about a Romani family with a criminal enterprise doesn’t help that perception, and in some ways reinforces those stereotypes. I’m certainly no expert on the Romani, nor am I an advocate for or against their cultural practices. But I am concerned that others may use this film to reinforce their own negative ideas about the Romani, and with the rise of far-right nationalists throughout the world, it puts marginalized populations like this in a tricky situation, despite their culture being one of the most persistent throughout Europe.
“A Ciambra” (2017) is a well-made peak inside the culture of the Romani family first teased in “Young Lions of Gypsy” and “Mediterranea”. While it may lean towards reinforcing stereotypes about the Romani, it also examines their marginalization and exploitation by society, and the complex notion of family among them. Fans who are interesting in learning about the Romani, or folks who want to see the strange confluence of Italians, African migrants, and Romani in Southern Italy, should definitely check out this film, and the other three related films. Just don’t be shocked when you see everyone, and I mean everyone, smoking cigarettes.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88% (CERTIFIED)
One Movie Punch: 8.8/10
“A Ciambra” (2017) is not rated and is currently streaming on Hulu.