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I'm Not Scared (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None listed

THE beautiful island of Sardinia, just off the Italian mainland, was once referred to by a native politician as ‘the Wild West’ of Italy, due to its lawless and unsafe history. Between 1960 and 1992, for instance, there were 178 reported child kidnappings, according to the New York Times.

One of the most infamous was the kidnapping of eight-year-old, Farouk Kassam, the son of an Emerald Coast hotel manager, who, in 1992, suffered the loss of an ear, when his father failed to deliver the ransom on time. The incident shocked a nation.

Gabriele Salvatores' beautiful, but haunting, thriller, I’m Not Scared, exists in such murky territory, but far from becoming another exploitative kidnap thriller, expertly taps into the fears of its young protagonists, serving as a smart little coming-of-age tale into the bargain.

Giuseppe Cristiano stars as ten-year-old villager, Michele, who, while playing near an abandoned house in the lush, golden fields near his home, stumbles upon another ten-year-old (Mattia Di Pierro’s Filippo), who has been stashed in an earthy, grey underground prison.

At first scared, but then curious, Michele starts to befriend Filippo and the two form an unlikely alliance, built around the basis that Michele will bring him the food and water he needs to survive.

For Filippo, Michele’s presence represents a re-awakening. Having been buried, out of sight, for so long, he believes he is dead, and that Michele represents a guardian angel.

But then, as he is forced to open his eyes, and get used to the sunlight once more, the friendship is seen as a potential means of escape.

For Michele, however, the need to maintain secrecy is of paramount importance, especially since he begins to suspect his own family and village of complicity in Filippo’s predicament.

To reveal too much more would be to deny much of the viewing pleasure, for Salvatore’s film works better when you don’t know what’s coming.

But I would urge you to see it, for the way in which it expertly taps into the fears and isolation of childhood, while also exposing the evil that lies within reach of us all.

Salvatores, who won the best foreign film Oscar, in 1991, for Mediterraneo, packs his film with contrasts, which serve as neat metaphors for the cruelty which resonates throughout.

When children are seen playing, or adults squabble, there is an impending sense of violence (both psychological and physical), and for every sweeping vista of sun-drenched fields, there is a rainstorm in waiting, or a dead animal to expose the horrors lying beneath the surface.

As such, I’m Not Scared works as an unsettling affair, without ever becoming manipulative, or resorting to the need to employ cheap shock tactics, while also serving as an honest, even emotive, tale of friendship, honour and decency.

The relationship between the two boys is touchingly portrayed so as never to seem mawkish, even when Filippo begins to refer to Michele in angelic terms, and it is easy for viewers to root for them both.

As such, the deliberate pacing works in its favour, so that by the time Salvatores reaches his tense climax, viewers should be perched somewhere near the edge of their seat.

I’m Not Scared works on many levels, yet, crucially, realises most, if not all, of its potential, serving as both a pertinent insight into a child’s view of their parents, as well as a tale of friendship against the odds. It works as both thriller and fairytale, deftly mixing its darker elements, with some genuinely touching moments.

As such, it ought not to be missed by anyone with an appreciation for terrific cinema.

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