Miramax continues to mishandle its foreign films in the instance of “I’m Not Scared,” an excellent Italian drama that Miramax for some reason is marketing as a thriller. The film’s poster, which I first saw upon exiting a screening of the film, says, “Secrets. Betrayal. Murder. Who can you trust when everyone’s a suspect?” This has so little to do with the movie’s actual content that I stood there, nonplussed, for several seconds before I realized Miramax and I were talking about the same movie.
For you see, while “I’m Not Scared” does indeed have thriller elements — there is a kidnapping, for example, and a cover-up — its excellence lies in its perspective, which is through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy. Because the boy hardly realizes, at first, that the boy he’s found shackled in a ditch is a kidnap victim, much less that people he knows are responsible for the crime, the thrills and chills are not immediately evident. To the boy, it’s a curious adventure, an interesting thing to have happen during a lazy summer. He’s “not scared” because he doesn’t grasp the full import of everything. He’s only a kid, after all.
It is 1978 in southern Italy, in a rural village populated by poor workers and their children. Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) and his little sister Maria (Giulia Matturo) wander through the fields with their contemporaries, playing games and looking for mischief. Their new haunt is a dilapidated old shack of a house that is exactly the sort of place kids love to play. It is a tetanus shot waiting to happen.
One day Michele notices a large sheet of metal on the ground, moves it, and finds that it covers a ditch. At the bottom of the ditch is a blanket, and sticking out from under the blanket is a foot. Further investigation yields that the foot belongs to a boy whose other foot is shackled to something. The boy is alive, but weak and hungry, and nearly blind. Michele doesn’t know why he is there, but he vows to bring him something to eat.
Michele doesn’t tell his beautiful young mother (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) or his playful, gift-giving father (Dino Abbrescia) about his find. What young boy doesn’t love a secret? He is young enough not to understand all the implications here, and young enough to be sufficiently self-involved not to think of reporting the shackled boy to an adult. Logic is an altogether different thing when you’re young and carefree.
The director is Gabriele Salvatores, whose 1991 film “Mediterraneo” won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. The new film, written by Niccolo Ammaniti and Francesca Marciano from Ammaniti’s novel, brilliantly shows the frivolity of childhood and the joy of summertime — when I saw that old house, a tetanus shot waiting to happen, I yearned for my own childhood summer days that were so often spent exploring such wonderful places. This is an effectively contrasting background against which to set a kidnapping drama, you must admit.
Everything looks different through the eyes of children. Their capacity not to be scared is one of their more admirable traits, when you think about it, and this is an admirable film.
B+ (1 hr., 41 min.; Italian with subtitles; )