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LOCARNO 2019 Filmmakers of the Present

Review: The Young Observant


- The new film by young Italian director Davide Maldi offers up a poignant portrayal of adolescence where naivety meets cruelty

Review: The Young Observant

Davide Maldi (helped in the writing of the screenplay by Micol Roubini) presented his second intriguing feature film The Young Observant [+see also:
interview: Davide Maldi
film profile
in the Filmmakers of the Present section of the Locarno Film Festival, offering a glimpse into the lives of a group of adolescents who are wrestling with dilemmas linked to growing up and “becoming adults”. But what does “becoming an adult” actually mean? Does it mean submitting to a merciless society where servants and masters cross paths without ever really knowing one another? Luca, the protagonist of The Young Observant, will learn at his own cost just how impervious to change these two opposing social groups truly are: if you’re a servant, you’ll remain that way forever. Five years after the release of Davide Maldi’s first feature film Frastuono, which was selected to compete in the Torino Film Festival, the director is once again taking up the tricky theme of adolescence as a cruel and mysterious rite of passage to adulthood.

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To make The Young Observant, Maldi chose to spend a year following a group of youngsters from the Mellerio Rosmini hospitality and catering school in Domodossola, Italy. Luca, a surprising and intriguing young man, at times reminiscent of Death in Venice’s Tazio, becomes the focus and the linchpin of the film’s narrative line and acts as a compass which urges us to observe a mysterious profession governed by the very strictest of rules. Luca needs to learn the art of submitting to the customer if he’s to survive the military rigour of Mellerio Rosmini. In order to please the master, everything must be meticulously neat, perfectly timed and spotlessly clean and sterile.

Maldi guides us through this ultra-organised world with his exacting eye, allowing us to observe the mysterious rituals through which simple adolescents are transformed into perfectly-turned-out adults. But what price will Luca have to pay? What part of himself will he have to sacrifice in order to submit to the demands of his customers?

Exuding the formal elegance of Visconti and the working-class mysticism of Pasolini, The Young Observant turns the day-to-day life of a group of adolescents into a shared ritual and into total dedication to a demanding profession of which sacrifice is an integral part. Luca, an introverted and endearing teenager who grew up in a village in the Alps, must sacrifice a part of himself in order to achieve a goal: completing his hotel training, a goal which was actually set more by his family than by Luca himself. Will Luca find a way of getting through the course without definitively betraying his own free and rebellious nature?

Through the rigour and discipline learned at the school, Luca’s spontaneous, everyday gestures are transformed into quasi liturgical rituals. Folding napkins, unrolling a tablecloth with great care and positioning cutlery and glasses on tables with obsessive precision all become reflexes of primary importance. Maldi calmly observes this functional choreography, where everyday movements change to reach nigh-on mystical status. Seemingly banal gestures are enriched with a profound sense of meaning, echoing the physical and psychological transformation of the students who were once simple teenagers and who are now perfect serving staff. Despite the cruel reality of a world where mistakes are not allowed, the director opens a window onto the world of these students without passing judgement; he observes without causing harm. His ever-piercing eye is never contemptuous, but rather acts as if some sort of magnifying glass held over an unknown universe (that of the Domodossola hospitality and catering school) which slowly becomes more familiar.

The Young Observant is a timeless film, merciless yet sensitive, which encourages us to look at adolescence differently, directly, and to leave all judgement at the door.

The Young Observant is produced by Invisibile Film, L’Altauro and Red House, and is sold worldwide by Slingshot Films.

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(Translated from Italian)

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