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LONDON 2021

Review: Hide and Seek

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- Victoria Fiore’s documentary offers a striking and heartbreaking view of life in Naples from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy

Review: Hide and Seek

Life in Naples, Italy, has been the object of countless fiction films and documentaries in recent years, its tragedy and violence a seemingly irresistible topic for filmmakers and audiences alike. At first glance, Hide and Seek, by London-based Italian director Victoria Fiore, appears to offer yet another glimpse into the reality of a cruel and harsh world populated by gangsters and lost souls looking for a way out. But this film, which had its world premiere in the Documentary Competition at the BFI London Film Festival, stands out from others like it for the way it employs all the tools of cinema to show Naples from the inside: rather than a sensationalistic, confrontational approach that would only serve to titillate viewers while alienating them from the people shown on screen, Fiore’s film enters the minds and hearts of its main protagonists, revealing the many complex and sometimes contradictory forces that shape them. 

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The images that open the film, showing Neapolitan street kids gathering dry Christmas trees and lighting them up in a sort of giant fire pit right in the middle of the city, are strikingly beautiful but also a little disconcerting, the way many films about seemingly wild kids are. We wonder how dangerous this might be, whether the children realise what they are doing, and where their parents are. But this initial shock together with the instinct to judge are replaced with a much more productive and humane kind of curiosity and compassion as Fiore’s camera comes to rest on Entoni, one of the boys in the crowd. This very charismatic 12-year-old is the real subject of the film, which could be described as a creative documentary for the way it presents the portrait of a person as they are seen from the outside, but also as they see themselves, their dreams, their futures, their hopes. Rather than merely follow him around, Fiore collaborates with Entoni and he collaborates with her: one sequence is a re-enactment of a dream he had, while in another, it is clear that Entoni and his best friend were brought together by the director, yet their dialogue is spontaneous and genuine. 

In short, Fiore’s creative handling of her images partly serves to tell the story of Entoni’s life as he himself sees it, and hearing this young child talk so openly about his city, his neighbourhood, his likes and dislikes, his ambitions for the future is moving in itself — lightyears away from the cliche of the sullen, rebellious teen. Entoni comes across as a child who is hungry for life, and although he does cause some trouble (or is at least said to do so by others), his energy does not feel like a destructive force. Fiore captures his joy when diving in the sea, playing with his little brother, or riding his best friend’s motorcycle, and it is simply impossible not to love him. And yet, also felt throughout the film is the presence of an ominous, invisible force which does not see things this way nor have the patience or desire to see the humanity that Fiore shows does exist in the streets of Naples. It is felt in the way Entoni’s mother speaks to him, in the references to Entoni’s father in prison, in the brief glimpses of older Neapolitan boys with guns, in the shots heard throughout the town, in the news on the radio — but most of all in the voiceover from Entoni’s grandmother Dora, which Fiore elegantly brings in to further highlight the contours of Entoni’s life. The chain-smoking matriarch is slow to open up, but her silence speaks volumes: one misplaced word and her life could be in danger. But she decides to speak anyway, and as she reveals more about her own past, her fears for her grandson begin to make sense. Through her own story of trauma, hopelessness and crime, the perceptive woman makes clear the dangerous cycles that Entoni risks falling into, in the footsteps of his own ancestors. Fiore’s creative approach therefore also serves to bring to light a perspective wider than that of Entoni alone, one that can only reveal itself after years spent carefully observing a subject, their world and their history. 

Sure enough, when Entoni is accused of setting a car on fire and taken away from his family for a few months as part of a new anti-crime law, this is not his first step towards a more stable life. Fiore follows the young boy over four years and we see him grow up, but also grow old. His repeated attempts to escape from the various facilities he is kept in over the years, which we learn about via his mother and some on-screen text, suggest a desperation he did not initially have. By the end of Hide and Seek, the young boy whose thirst for freedom and excitement about the future were so palpable has therefore almost disappeared from the film. But while he is locked away and no longer causing “trouble” in the street, the impact of his absence is undeniably harmful. One sequence near the end shows Entoni’s mother and brother as they wave at the building he is kept in from across the water — just like Entoni earlier on was waving at his own father in prison. Fiore expertly combines observations on wildly different scales — from the details of a Christmas tree on fire to the patterns that repeat across generations — to reach a kind of ecstatic truth that is as beautiful as it is heart wrenching. 

Hide and Seek was produced by Aleksandra Bilic and Jennifer Corcoran for My Accomplice with backing from the British Film Institute (BFI) and Film Commission Regione Campania. 

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