A Ciambra Review
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Writer-director, Jonas Carpignano, has been shaping the world and the characters we see in A Ciambra for quite some time. His first short, A Chjana, told the story of Burkinabe migrant, Ayiva (Koudous Seihon), living in the aftermath of a race riot in Italy. A Ciambra was initially conceived as a 16 minute short, spending one night with a young Roma (the preferred term to gypsy) pre-teen called Pio (Pio Amato), in a small Romani town called Gioia Tauro. Carpignano's 2015 debut feature, Mediterranea, brought the two characters together, recalling Ayiva's journey from Burkina Faso into Italy. His new release expands on Pio's life and immediate world while looking at the migrant African community in the region.
With Martin Scorsese on board as executive producer, Carpignano gives life to the Romani community that he has spent the last five years so close to. Although the plot is fictional, the use of Pio and the entire Amato family in the film shifts this partially into documentary territory. The authenticity of their lives and those who inhabit the 'Ciambra' estate feels tangibly real because there is nothing artificial about it. We follow Pio wandering from place to place, the camera attached to his persona showing us adolescent life from his perspective.
The film opens in the past observing a man overlooking the Italian countryside, his horse and cart resting to one side along with his family while taking a break from travelling. Jumping into the modern day, we learn that he was Pio's grandfather at an earlier age, perhaps travelling towards the Calabrian region they have now settled in. Carpignano pays homage to the lineage of travellers in the family bloodline later in the film and Pio's grandfather tells him "Always remember, it's us against the world". Those words are given true meaning when Pio is compromised into making a heartbreaking choice between family and friends.
A Ciambra remains mostly plot free, spending much of its time with Pio trying to follow in the footsteps of his older brother who burgles and steals cars to bring money into the family home. If the men of the house aren't being arrested for thieving or illegally tapping into the local electricity source, the police keep a suspicious eye on their activity, even raiding their residence in the middle of the night searching for stolen copper. The slum-like area is alive most times of the day, where you can find Pio and his even younger siblings and friends smoking like chimneys. Pio is desperate to prove to his older brother Cosimo (Damiano Amato) he is ready to step into manhood and low-level crime but he also holds a tinge of regret about leaving behind the innocence and freedom of childhood.
Pio's relationship with Ayiva is an interesting one, the latter looking out for the boy and helping where he can. We are given a glimpse of life inside a nearby refugee camp when Pio delivers a TV for its residents to watch a Ghanaian football match. It's an eye opener for Pio and his close bond with Ayiva is in stark contrast to the distrust and racism his family holds towards "the Africans". There is no hiding from the poverty and the do-or-die attitude that infects everyone here but Carpignano never once passes any judgement on the people or their way of life, his observational stance allowing us to reach our own conclusions.
The strengths of A Ciambra reveal themselves in the best traditions of Italian neorealist cinema. In doing so it opens the door to a micro-society rarely seen onscreen and often viewed as outcasts by surrounding communities. The use of the Amato family is an inspired choice that connects us with the inner space of life on their estate looking out towards the rest of society. Pio himself is a relaxed and natural presence in front of the camera never once feeling out of place with his central role. Seihon, as Aviya, also adds heart, wrapped inside a tough exterior that has seen more than enough on his journey to this part of the world. Over the space of two shorts and two feature length films Carpignano has crafted a vibrant universe that you only hope he chooses to expand upon further.