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One of the most remarkable thrillers of recent years, and certainly one of the finest modern Italian films, a scary and disturbing study of guilt and complicity with an uncommonly absorbing narrative.

The Package
     Director Gabriele Salvatores is known for the international hit MEDITERRANEO, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film back in 1991. IíM NOT SCARED (IO NON HO PUERA) should have won the same award but didnít (wasnít even nominated--crime!), despite a high profile U.S. release by Miramax Films in 2004. Salvatores also directed the surreal horror film DENTI/TEETH (2000).
     The basis for IíM NOT SCARED was a remarkable Italian novel by Niccolo Ammaniti, published in English in 2002. The film adaptation (for once) fully does it justice.

The Story
     10-year-old Michele lives in an impoverished town in Southern Italy during the 1970s. Playing with his friends one morning, Michele discovers a flap in the ground near an abandoned house, which he lifts to discover a hollowed-out cavern. At the bottom of the cavern a tiny foot is visible, sticking out of a blanket. Michele neglects to tell his parents of his find, but notices his father watching the evening news quite intently.
     The next day Michele again peeks into the cavern, and is confronted by a naked boy residing within. Over the following days Michele brings the boy food and water, and even ascends into the hole himself to speak with the boy, whose name is Filippe. Michele initially believes a local man is keeping Filippe captive, but learns the horrible truth one night when he spots all the men of the town seated at his dinner table watching the news: Filippe has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom, and the entire town is complicit in the crime.
     Michele continues feeding Filippe, and even takes him for a brief run in the countryside. But then Michele makes the mistake of telling a friend about Filippe. The ďfriendĒ informs his elders and Michele gets in big trouble. He promises his peeved father heíll never visit Filippe again, but quickly breaks that promiseÖonly to find that Filippe has disappeared from the hole.
     It seems police have caught on to the fact that the town is involved in the kidnapping, and the townspeople are growing desperate. They decide Filippe will have to be killed, and Michele, having found out where Filippe is being held, races to rescue his friend from certain death--unaware that itís his own father whoís been tapped to do the killing!

The Direction
     This film is marked by lush pastoral scenery--perhaps a bit too lush. Director Gabriele Salvatores was evidently quite seduced by the sweeping country vistas where the film is set, and includes a lot of excess footage of endless fields of grain and pretty cloud formations. Still, the pastoral beauty makes for an affecting contrast to the horror of the narrative.
     Speaking of which, there are some powerful moments of skin-crawling fear. Accomplished with little-to-no graphic violence, most of the scariness takes place inside the hole where the kidnapped boy resides. These scenes are photographed through telephoto lenses with the outer edges blurred out, accentuating the horror and strangeness visited upon the protagonistís carefree world.
     Itís that sense of the world of childhood, conveyed with a welcome lack of sentimentality, that really elevates IíM NOT SCARED. The performance of 13-year-old Giuseppe Cristiano, whose naÔve viewpoint anchors the proceedings, is simply remarkable, and easily one of the finest kid performances of recent years, if not of all time.

Vital Statistics

Miramax Films

Director: Gabriele Salvatores
Producers: Maurizio Totti, Riccardo Tozzi, Giovanni Stabilini, Marco Chimenz
Screenplay: Niccolo Ammaniti, Francesca Marciano
(Based on a novel by Niccolo Ammaniti)
Cinematography: Italo Petriccione
Editing: Massimo Fiocchi
Cast: Aitana Snachez-Gijon, Dino Abbrescia, Giorgio Careccia, Antonella Stefanucci, Riccardo Zinna, Diego Abatantuono, Guiseppe Cristano, Mattia Di Pierro, Adriana Conserva, Fabio Tetta, Stefano Biase, Fabio Antonacci, Giulia Matturro