In his first feature film as a director, the Kim Rossi Stuart takes on the complicated subject of father/son relationships for which there are notable precedents not only in international cinema, but particularly in Italian cinema through the most obvious example of Bicycle Thieves. It’s the shadow of Gianni Amelio however which looms over Libero (or to give it its full Italian title Anche Libero Va Bene, retitled here in translation as "Along the Ridge"), notably Il Ladro di Bambini and Le Chiavi di Casa, a film in which Kim Rossi Stuart himself starred as a father who has to come to terms with a disabled son he has never acknowledged. The relationship between young Tomasso Benetti (Alessandro Morace ) and his father Renato (Kim Rossi Stuart) is a similarly complex one, but it’s one that Rossi Stuart, as director and actor, manages to handle with a great deal of finesse.
Tommi’s family background is far from either stable or conventional, but the circumstances of the 11 year-old boy’s confused childhood and his rites of passage will certainly be familiar. His father Renato (Kim Rossi Stuart) is something of a hot-head, frequently confrontational, angry, uptight and demanding. Working freelance as a Steadicam operator, his temper makes it difficult for him to hold down regular jobs. He’s a loving father however, who only wants to do his best for his two children, Tommi and Viola (Marta Nobili), in the absence of their mother who has taken off, perhaps not for the first time, with another man. With a precocious older sister and a wayward mother, Tommi isn’t sure what quite to make of the female sex and unsure of how to show feelings he has for a young girl in his class at school. When his mother Stefania (Barbora Bobulova) returns to their apartment however, begging to be reaccepted into the family, there is some hesitation and doubt, but the family agree to make a go of it again. But how long is his mother going to stay around for this time?
As director and principal writer on the film (co-scripted with Linda Ferri, writer on Nanni Moretti’s The Son’s Room), Kim Rossi Stuart handles all these complicating factors of Tommi’s childhood very well, showing a timid boy uncertain of his place in the world with a shifting, unstable family background. It’s the relationship with his father however which is the central and most important relationship in the film, and this is also handled with a degree of insight and naturalism, the viewer, like Tommi, spared little of the harsh realities of his mother and father’s problems. Without over-explanation or reliance on traditional means of exposition, the film also manages to show Tommi’s inner concerns, his circumstances, his confusion and the turbulent relationship with his father.
Certainly, the pushiness of his father to drive him to achieve as a swimmer against Tommi’s preference for football seems like a typical device to show a conflict of ambitions, but the choice of sports is also expressive of the young boy’s wish to fit into a team with others, rather than be a solitary achiever. It’s not a conscious desire or one that is vocalised, but it’s expressed in the classroom scenes as well as in the apparently ideal of the family of his rich neighbour friend. The film’s Italian title incidentally comes from another such subtle reference, when Tommi is discussing with his father the football position he’d like to play on the team. Tommi characteristically favours a midfield role, while his father, a little bit more ambitiously, suggests he might want to aim for sweeper (libero). To please his father Tommi concedes that "Anche libero va bene" – a sweeper is good too.
Tommi’s rite of passage then comes in the understanding of who he is and the acceptance of his place in his family and the world around him. The young boy has to witness a lot of things a child perhaps doesn’t need to be exposed to at this particular age, his father treating him like an adult confidant in discussions about his mother’s promiscuity, but while the journey to the realisation of his place in the world is quite a bumpy one, the film does get there relatively smoothly through the fluid structure and direction. The strengths of the film however are principally in the performances – Alessandro Morace as Tommi in particular being outstanding – and in the assurance with which the director handles the complex tangle of family relationships.
Libero is released in the UK by Axiom Films. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.
The film is presented anamorphically at the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, transferred progressively. The print looks marvellous, with excellent tone and colour and not a mark or dust spot. There’s perhaps evidence of cross-colouration in backgrounds, and a faint flicker of compression artefacts may be detected in earlier scenes, but these incidences are rare and for the most part the image is close to perfect.
There is no surround mix provided, but the stereo Dolby Digital 2.0 track is excellent – strong and clear with no flaws and decent separation. It carries a natural tone and is more than capable for the demands of those few explosive moments on the soundtrack, most of them coming from Renato’s outbursts.
SubtitlesEnglish subtitles are provided in a white font and are optional.
Interview with Kim Rossi Stuart (13:05)
Conducted in French (apparently for the MK2 release), and acquitting himself well in the language, the director talks about how the script and the subject come above everything else in the filmmaking process, and how the richness of the theme of childhood and working with children drew him to make Libero. Casting consequently was also vital and he talks about finding the children and casting himself in the film.
Behind The Scenes of Libero (6:48)
A short EPK feature, this typically shows some behind the scenes filming intercut with snippets of interviews with the cast.
Deleted Scenes (27:28)
No less than 23 deleted scenes are included in a continuous reel, some of them merely incidental trims, but there are some interesting subplots involving a prostitute, the mute boy and the stealing of some money that fill out the characterisation a little more. Libero is certainly a tighter, leaner film for their absence, but it’s nice to have these included here, and in their totality, they almost add up to a mini sub-movie. The deleted scenes are presented anamorphically, not quite to the standard of the main feature, but they are pretty good quality nonetheless.
The original screen tests are presented for Alessandro Morace (7:29), Marta Nobili (2:37), Sebastiano Tiraboschi (1:57) and several other kids from the class (5:13). Because they are kids and natural, even these are enjoyable to watch.
22 still photographs are included.
Presented originally at the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes, Anche Libero Va Bene made a strong impression on critics and came away with an award from the festival, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a charming debut film from Kim Rossi Stuart, one that doesn’t set out to make any great statements or demonstrate style and technique, but rather focuses with nuance on character and relationships with a finely honed script and strong, natural performances. Axiom’s presentation of the film on DVD is impressive, with an excellent transfer and worthwhile extra features.