Dir: Kim Rossi Stuart. It. 2006.104mins.

Though it breaks no new ground, Anche Libero VaBene, Italian actor Kim Rossi Stuart'sdirectorial debut, restates the child's eye-view of family strife with suchemotional truth that it feels fresh.

The film spends little timetrying to look pretty, and its kitchen-sink aesthetics, together with its deliberately untouristy viewof suburban Rome, will confine it to the arthouse.But within this niche it looks to stir foreign as well as domestic interest.Buyers will be lured by the astonishingly real performances of its two youngco-protagonists, especially the film's point-of-view focus, 11-year-oldAlessandro Morace.

Some will find the film'sdramatic arc a little muddy. But it's Rossi Stuart's commitment to his younghero-narrator, rather than the demands of classic script structure, that makethis such a convincing and affecting debut.

In Italy, where the film wasreleased last week, it will benefit both from the public's indulgence for RossiStuart (young, good-looking, talented and just recovered from a recentmotorbike accident) and from 01 Distribution's decision - no doubt buoyed bythe film's selection for Director's Fortnight at Cannes - to give it a muscularroll-out for such a potentially small product.

Creative wellsprings aredifficult things to pin down, but Rossi Stuart (seen by festival audiences earlierthis year in Berlin competitor Crime Novel)must have drawn at least some of his inspiration from his last-but-one filmrole in Gianni Amelio's The Keys Of The House. There, he was anemotionally inarticulate young father who fled when his son turned out to beseverely disabled; here he is an emotionally inarticulate young father whostays to look after his son and daughter when his flirty and unstable wifeleaves the nest.

Struggling to make a livingas a cameraman who specialises in advertising shoots, Renato,Rossi Stuart's character, feels that the world owes him a living. The angerthat he has bottled up inside comes out in two painful scenes in which, watchedby one or more of kids, he loses his cool with poised and contemptuous figuresof authority.

But it's when the mothercomes home (a mirror image of the absent father's sudden appearance in Andrei Zvyagintsev's TheReturn) that the drama really kicks in, and the fragile harmony establishedbetween Renato and his children threatens to comeapart.

Screentime and camera anglestells us straight off that the hero of the story is Tommi (Morace), the youngerof the two kids. It's a well-chosen point of view, because Tommi'swhole approach to life, caught between his irascible father, his unreliable,live-for-the-day older sister Viola (Nobili), and hisabsent or else hysterically over-affectionate mother (Bobulova),is based on watching, monitoring, and making plans accordingly.

There's a great moment whenan emotionally frazzled Renato moves a hand towardshis son's face: Tommi flinches almost imperceptiblybefore relaxing into his father's caress.

But it's the solid scriptand the raw performances that really impress, rather than the merely adequatecamerawork and spare soundtrack by Banda Osiris,which only lets its hair down with the final credits. A narrativediscursiveness (as in the scenes of Tommi's secretden on the roof, which appear to portend disaster) is coupled with some really tightediting: we're being told, in effect, that to an 11-year-old, the littledisappointments and betrayals are as important as the big emotional scenes.

The swimming lessons Tommi takes to please his father, his clumsy attempts atschool romance, his guarded love-hate reaction to the 'normal' family ofAntonio, his friend in the apartment downstairs - these are made to count asmuch as the crucial stand-offs with father and mother.

Production companies
Rai Cinema

Italian distribution
01 Distribution

International sales

Carlo Degli Esposti
Giorgio Magliulo
Andrea Costantini

Linda Ferri
Federico Starnone
Francesco Giammusso
Kim Rossi Stuart

Stefano Falivene

Production design
Stefano Giambanco

Marco Spoletini

Banda Osiris

Main cast
Kim Rossi Stuart
Barbara Bobulova
Alessandro Morace
Marta Nobili