Review: Piano Piano
- Nicola Prosatore’s debut is a Paolo Virzì-style coming-of-age tale which lacks bite and tells a story which we’ve already heard time and time again
We’re in Naples between 1986 and 87. Diego Armando Maradona is making the Neapolitan city dream with his athletic feats, and even the latest “rascal” is dreaming of winning the league. Nicola Prosatore has set Piano Piano [+see also:
film profile] - his debut feature film which is screening in the Locarno Film Festival’s Piazza Grande section - in an unspecified suburb of the city. Here, he recounts the torments and first sexual urges of a pre-teen girl called Anna (Dominique Donnarumma), nicknamed the “princess.” Anna lives with her mother Susi (Antonia Truppo) in a small apartment from which they’re soon to be evicted. Their home looks out onto a large courtyard, which is the film’s main location, populated by poor souls who are addicted to drugs and alcohol and mixed up with the Camorra.
Everything changes for Anna when she meets forty-year-old Peppino (Giuseppe Pirozzi), who’s struggling with the delicate task of hiding and feeding a fugitive known simply as the “rascal” (Antonio De Matteo). Meanwhile, the eyes of a far bigger “street kid” Ciro (Massimiliano Caiazzo) and of the local boss Don Gennaro (Lello Arena) are trained firmly upon him.
Prosatore tries to explore a typical pre-adolescent journey of self-discovery, incorporating it into a highly problematic social context which is hugely over-represented on TV and in film. Unfortunately, the film often feels forced in terms of its narration and there’s no shortage of technical flaws either. For example, the scene where Anna and the rascal meet for the first time is staged rather strangely, and we struggle to believe that a girl brought up in such a challenging environment would embark on anything, or find herself alone, with a man over forty quite so nonchalantly. On the technical front, some far too risky sound design and editing choices have been made, and these are especially apparent in the film’s autoerotic scenes and in several gaps between scenes shot simultaneously in different locations. Other decisions are too didactic, such as with the long bird’s eye view followed by a shot of a bird in a cage. The dynamics involved in the final confrontation between Ciro, the rascal and Peppino, meanwhile, are unconvincing and fail to elevate the story in any way.
Unfortunately, it takes more than Raf’s Self Control, a warm-hued photograph, flashy clothes and Commodore-64-style opening and closing credits, to recreate the 80s. The final result is somewhat akin to a Paolo Virzì film, but one which generally smacks of déjà vu: kids discovering erotic love and exploring their own bodies, parents who don’t understand them, the “beautiful and the damned,” twists unfolding over the phone, and football taking priority above all else. The cast, however, does a decent job, in spite of the subpar screenplay and film direction.
There’s just one small aside: in an age where Italian film is struggling to attract audiences back into cinemas and our films are failing to stimulate debate and create profit in this post-pandemic era, Piano Piano is a clear example of why this might be. To be clear, it’s not the worst film out there, but it speaks of an industry which is short on ideas and unsure of the choices it should make. To be specific, it does a pretty good job of reflecting the tired state of Italian film and the critical juncture it’s currently at, because, like many other titles, it over-invests in tropes and artistic visions, which might have been pleasant or even captivating ten or twenty years ago, but at this stage it’s all far too little: as viewers we can and should definitely ask for more.
(Translated from Italian)
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