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Five Cent Cine (At Home): A Ciambra

A new focus of Italian neorealism - Rom (gypsies) as marginalized people

Italian neorealism resurfaces in Italian-New York-born director Jonas Carpignano’s “A Ciambra,” a window onto the unrelenting marginal existence of Rom (gypsies), here firmly planted in the degraded and corrupt Italian South.

In an early scene, an older brother shows a barely pubescent Pio Amato (Pio Amato) how to hot-wire and steal a car. And 14-year-old Pio gives his baby brother a cigarette, as that little guy curses his sister, who doesn’t even complain, showing us this child has already learned the masculine dominance that permeates this society.

Carpignano’s cast is mostly the all-too-real 15 members of one Rom family, the Amatos, whose profession is simply crime.

Carpignano’s cast is mostly the all-too-real 15 members of one Rom family, the Amatos, whose profession is simply crime. They steal cars, copper, electricity, luggage, anything they can. They are pawns in a world inhabited by the “Italians” (always in quotation marks), gangsters who exploit the Rom below them on the social order; by the police, who extract exorbitant fines and deprive the family of the working (albeit at crime) men for long stretches; and by African refugees, who have their own criminality, community and marginality. Close-ups and night scenes contribute to the sense of claustrophobia that represents the Rom experience.

Pio’s trajectory into manhood within the Rom clan is challenged by his relationship with an older African immigrant, Ayiva (Koudous Seihon), who treats Pio with more brotherly kindness and guidance than his own kin do.

“A Ciambra” is a remarkable film with an even more remarkable cast of non-professional actors that exposes, without moralizing, the dyads of an expanding world and tribalism, of self-identity and the group, of friendship and family.

Date: 2017

Director: Jonas Carpignano

Starring: Pio Amato, Koudous Seihon, and 14 other members of the Amato family.

Languages: Italian, subtitled in English

Awards: Won 13, including Best Director and Best Editing for 2017 David di Donatello and Label Europa Cinema at Cannes, and nominated for another 20.

Runtime: 118 minutes

A Ciambra ★★★ (out of 4 stars)

Available: Streaming on Hulu and for rental or purchase on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube and Vudu; see Just Watch here.

See all Five Cent Cine reviews by 2 Film Critics

Written by 2 Film Critics

2 Film Critics

William Graebner is Emeritus Professor of History, State University of New York, Fredonia, where he taught courses on film and American culture. He is the author or co-author of 11 books and more than 50 scholarly articles, including essays on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and zombie films as they relate to the Holocaust. Dianne Bennett, the first woman to head a large U.S. law firm, is a retired U.S. tax lawyer.

Dianne and Bill were early and passionate attendees at the Toronto Film Festival, and today enjoy the film scenes of Los Angeles, Rome, London, and Buffalo, New York. They began reviewing films for the Rome-based website “TheAmerican/inItalia” in 2016, have maintained a blog on Rome for a decade, and published two alternative guidebooks to the Eternal City. They still can’t resist going to the movies, not to mention the ensuing discussions, sometimes heated, over a bottle of Arneis at the nearest wine bar.

​And that's just the beginning of our reviewing process. For one or two hours we discuss the film, as one of us takes notes. The notetaker transcribes the notes and prints two copies. Dianne or Bill (usually depending on who had the most compelling understanding of the film, or who was most taken with it) writes the first draft of the review--supposedly taking into account the views of the other--which is followed by 3, 4, or even 7 more drafts. At some point, sometimes days later, when we're both comfortable with the result (or accepting of it, anyway), it's done.

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