Film Review: ‘A Chiara’4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
Director: Jonas Carpignano
Cast: Swamy Rotolo, Pio Amato, Leonardo Bevilacqua, Koudous Seihon
Runtime: 121 minutes
Written by Teo Jia Hui
The trailer caught my eye but the movie caused me to turn my eye away. There is a saying: the more you hope, the more you fall. I’m afraid this was my sentiment for A Chiara. Among all other emotions, dissatisfaction was certainly not what I’d thought to leave with.
A Chiara is a character study of a 15-year-old Calabrian, Chiara (Swamy Rotolo), who leads a seemingly ordinary life. She asks no questions about her family’s flamboyant lifestyle. That is, until her sister’s 18th birthday party, when things start to change. Their father abandons the family and she discovers that he is a wanted criminal.
It is with intention that writer-director Jonas Carpignano allows us to see the world of Calabria through the sole lens of Chiara. We only know as much as she does. As such, the film’s cinematography constructs a claustrophobic perspective, showcasing Chiara’s internal state of confusion through introspection.
A fresh welcome, the film presents a deviation from the usual blockbuster mafia movies that we have been accustomed to, the sensationalistic spiel stripped to the bones. Such deconstruction essentially sheds light on a less-seen perspective of organised crime in Calabria.
If unique creative processes intrigue you, A Chiara might be your cup of tea. With Carpignano employing the actual Rotolo family to play Chiara’s family in the movie, we are introduced to a rare instance where the character’s family members are being played by the actress’ actual family members (who are non-professional actors). Carpignano adds this third film to his series of “Calabrian” movies, which all bear the naturalistic filmmaking style he favours. We bear witness to the film’s raw coming-of-age narrative through this lens as we feel Chiara’s dilemma between the choice of family and what is right.
At certain junctures of the film, the editing actually feels choppy, forming a haphazard ambience. While such sequences intensify the scene by building up the pace and rhythm, they are merely momentary, the fleeting fragmentation attributing to a confusing ambiguity rather than quickening the pace of the film’s overall slow progression. However, they can also be understood as a reflection of the psychological insight of Chiara’s thoughts, mirroring her inner state of disarray at the expense of her father’s sudden departure.
My quibble with such introspection, unfortunately, is in its one-dimensional ending. The tension built up just leads to a finale that feels rushed, reinforcing the notion that the finesse that exists in its technical elements is lacking in the storytelling.
It becomes hard not to feel mystified by the car that suddenly blows up after a series of contrastingly tender scenes of the Rotolo family. While the incident spills open a can of worms, there exists no answer to the torrent of questions. An oppressive conspiracy seems to have formed around the subject, but it’s hard to know what it means if anything at all.
Moreover, the excessively-prolonged slice-of-life sequences in the beginning merely come across as fillers. Coupled with the limited stylisation, the efficiency of these scenes does become questioned as it becomes a slog of a film. As such, while there is a commendable attempt to make the movie sophisticated, the maddeningly slow pacing ultimately ruins such an intention.
When juxtaposed with the superb acting of the cast, such flaws seem to diminish a little as the film’s impressiveness is again, magnified. The centre of the film is no doubt, Swamy Rotolo, who is magnetic in her portrayal of Chiara. Carpignano has made her the focal point and when you see her act, there is no question why.
I walked away from A Chiara feeling slightly cheated, but if only less so due to Rotolo’s stellar performance and the equally on-par cinematography.
This review is published as part of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme, organised by The Filmic Eye, with support from the Singapore Film Society and Sinema.
About the Author:
Jia Hui has a love-hate relationship with potatoes but thankfully, this is not the case for films. When not daydreaming about films, she can be found dreaming about her other loves: food & design. And yes, all while taking her gap year.