Thursday 15 August 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 54. I'm Not Scared

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

I'm Not Scared
Director - Gabriele Salvatores
Country - Italy
Year - 2003
Runtime - 108 minutes

I'm Not Scared is a chilling mystery as seen through the eyes of Michele, a nine year old boy who lives in an idyllic pastoral village in the Italian countryside. Whilst out playing with his friends, Michele uncovers a bloodcurdling secret and his inquisitive nature lands him in a dangerous situation when he returns alone to investigate further. At first, Michele keeps his discovery a secret from his parents and friends. However, as his actions of kindness towards a stranger grow bolder, Michele's risk of being caught by the perpetrators of a heinous crime increases and threatens to derail his family's peaceful existence.

Director Gabriele Salvatores adapted this enthralling story from the successful novel of the same name by Niccolo Ammaniti and brought his sublime vision of the loss of childhood innocence to life with vivid detail. This is a beautifully realised amalgamation of a childhood fantasy with a disturbing crime story in a sumptuous setting that provides an enchanting backdrop to the proceedings. Visceral tracking shots of Michele and his friends frolicking in tall wheat fields at the start of the film evoke the magic of happy childhood memories and culminate in a demonstration of Michele's strength of character as he stands up for a girl who is being bullied. These relatively carefree times are soon to be disrupted by a life-changing set of circumstances and the subsequent crescendo to the film's revelatory finale is as enthralling as its heartstopping conclusion.

In child actor Giuseppe Cristiano, Salvatore found the perfect combination of innocence and curiosity that drives a spirited performance with real conviction in his portrayal of Michele. Cristiano tackles a range of challenging scenes, particularly when Michele witness his mother being assaulted, and brings a sense of stoicism to his role - a trait that only a child who doesn't fully comprehend the seriousness of the situations he finds himself in is likely to exhibit. Michele is a boy who will captivate your heart, and Cristiano's superb depiction of the film's central character brings a raw emotional hook that propels the picture into the realm of greatness.

Trouble rears its head when Michele's father, Pino, is visited by an intimidating friend from the city and Michele is forced to share his room with the unwanted guest. This is the catalyst for Michele's rebellious streak to develop further and is the cause for a heated confrontation with his mother, Anna. Both parents are attentive to the needs of Michele and his younger sister, Maria, giving gifts and introducing games to see who has to fetch the wine for the table (a game that is revisited later in the film with horrific consequences) but you can sense a shift in mood with the arrival of Pino's intimidating visitor.

Dino Abbrescia provides a real intensity to his performance as Pino; wrestling with his parental
responsibilities and the uncompromising situation he finds himself in. Aitana Sanchez-Gijon shines as Anna, trying to hide her growing concern about the appearance of her husband's dangerous friends and struggling to contend with her son's new found defiance. With Michele's home life being disrupted in this manner it is no wonder he retreats to the fantasy world in his imagination, or the ramshackled farmhouse in which he makes his startling discovery, so often.

Vibrant strings collide with the buzz of crickets as the rousing score appears to harmonise with the natural sounds of the countryside. The stirring music lifts the film's key scenes by inducing a state of alertness in the audience; ushering in a playful urgency as characters flee from danger or a jubilant sense of freedom as children run wild in the fields. A recurring motif is strengthened as the film progresses and this serves to heighten the impact of the gripping denouement when its sorrowful melody strikes up for one last time. This is a soundtrack awash with music that delights and haunts in equal measure - a fitting partner to the tumultuous yet mesmerising events we witness on screen.

It is fascinating to see the actions of criminals interpreted by a young boy and traumatic to learn of the twisted lies they tell to another. There are some cruel and malicious men at the centre of this compelling mystery and this allows Michele's virtuous nature to illuminate the darkness he finds along his journey of discovery. The stunning vistas of the endless wheat fields are eerily reminiscent of the imagery we associate with the Elysian Fields. A revered place reserved for the virtuous and heroic in Greek mythology, and a place that seems like the perfect setting for Michele's brave and selfless deeds. With I'm Not Scared, Salvatores has crafted a sublime work of art; a captivating and suspenseful mystery full of wonder and danger that is delivered in a style befitting of the unforgettably poignant tale it presents.

If you take the time to watch I'm Not Scared then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

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