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Review: Once You Are Born, You Can No Longer Hide

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The world saved by children


- "'Once you are born you can no longer hide' really is an African surname... And it is the real name of an illegal immigrant..."

Review: Once You Are Born, You Can No Longer Hide

"Once you are born you can no longer hide", as is also said in the film, really is an African surname. There, people often use concepts as surnames. And it is the real name of an illegal immigrant that I met and interviewed." (Marco Tullio Giordana)

A sailboat rapidly ploughs through the water in the dark of night, a boy on the stern sways and falls overboard. He flounders, resists and is then swallowed up by the depths of the sea. Helped by unknown arms he re-emerges, symbolically reborn from that amniotic fluid.

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This is the most beautiful and important scene of Once You Are Born, You Can No Longer Hide [+see also:
film focus
interview: Marco Tullio Giordana
interview: Riccardo Tozzi
film profile
(o.t. Quando sei nato non puoi più nasconderti), the sequence around which the film’s theme revolves: entrusting to a child’s eyes the task of being astonished by the world, just as we are astonished by cinema. In order to recount the moral growth of his young protagonist, Marco Tullio Giordana chooses as a pretext the phenomenon that is marking our era: the migration of thousands of people towards our coasts in search of the promised land. Reception and rejection, solidarity and diffidence, tolerance and racism, hospitality and contempt, consumption and marginalization, rich citizens of the world and new barbarians. Us and them. It is simply the Italian version of a global problem. A problem that is no longer novel, which has already produced a massive amount of news footage and film images that have filled our collective imagination to the brim with rhetoric that we must avoid. This is precisely the reason why, during Cannes – where the film, inspired by the eponymous sociological text by Maria Pace Ottieri, was screened in competition – French and US critics were not very gentle with Giordana. They accused him of opting for a documentary-like rather than cinematic approach, of not being very courageous in his choices, of falling into the trap of pedantry, of not keeping his promises, of stooping to clichés. And if this criticism might even seem appropriate – the film is discontinuous and awkward at times – Giordana’s directing and the screenplay were not aiming to illustrate clichés but to render their predictability evident.

What remains at the heart of the film – splendidly shot by Roberto Forza – is the young Sandro Lombardi, played by Matteo Gadola, an actor gifted with an intense gravity. Sandro could be a descendant of the Carati family from Best of Youth [+see also:
film profile
. In him, we discover the ethical traits of the characters of the Giordana’s 2003 film – the same desire to take action, without giving in to prejudices and stereotypes. Sandro is a 13 year-old from the affluent part of the city of Brescia, who falls into the sea during a trip and, as in Kipling’s "Captains Courageous", is saved by illegal immigrants aboard a battered boat headed towards Italy. Sandro befriends Radu and Alina, two young immigrants his age and, upon returning home, he cannot go back to his previous sweet life.

The boy’s perspective is lost, replaced by the more "conventional" and political point of view of scriptwriters Stefano Rulli and Sandro Petraglia, on the people of northern Italy, the schizophrenia of an unwitting racism, and an energy that is dulled by fear. The Brescia of the film is the most multi-ethnic of Italian cities, and was the first to confront its immigration problem and recognize that foreign labour was an indispensable resource. A Brescia that is simultaneously generous, obtuse, industrious, narrow-minded, sensitive, vulgar, united. However, in Once You Are Born You Can No Longer Hide, there is none of the overwhelming sense of guilt that permeates Michael Haneke’s Hidden [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Margaret Menegoz
interview: Michael Haneke
film profile
. Here, there is only Sandro, who learns an entirely new "language," different from the one he is familiar with. Who comes to see people in what was previously just a presence. Who understands that friendship is a luxury and that integration and coexistence are only two beautiful sounding words. And who discovers the right not to hide, once we are born.

(Translated from Italian)


international title: Once you're born you can no longer hide
original title: Quando sei nato non puoi più nasconderti
country: Italy, France
sales agent: TF1 Studio
year: 2005
directed by: Marco Tullio Giordana
screenplay: Marco Tullio Giordana, Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli
cast: Alessio Boni, Michela Cescon, Rodolfo Corsato, Matteo Gadola, Ester Hazan, Vlad Alexandru Toma

main awards/selection

Cannes 2005 Official Competition

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