Jonas Carpignano revisits the life of an Italian teen in his follow-up to Mediterranea

A Ciambra

Dir/scr. Jonas Carpignano. It/US/Fr/Sweden. 2017. 120mins

Pio Amato, the young scene-stealer of filmmaker Jonas Carpignano’s 2015 feature debut Mediterranea, takes centre stage for this follow-up. A Ciambra lacks some of the moral heft and harrowing drama of the first instalment, but this coming-of-age tale is a forceful look at masculinity, disenfranchisement and poverty, as seen through a once-cocky 14-year-old who is starting to recognise the societal restrictions that may leave him destined for an unhappy adulthood.

A Ciambra may be a conventional tale of a young man trying to find himself, but the writer-director’s attention to detail enriches that setup.

Playing in Directors’ Fortnight, Carpignano’s new feature should receive a higher profile than the well-regarded Mediterranea thanks to Martin Scorsese’s role as an executive producer. Expect strong festival play, although theatrical prospects may be less assured.

Amato reprises his role as Pio, a fast-talking hustler who lives in an impoverished, ostracized Romani community in southern Italy. After his older brother Cosimo (Damiano Amato) and father (Rocco Amato) are arrested for stealing electricity, Pio takes it upon himself to become the breadwinner for his household, which contains four generations of his family.

While it’s not mandatory to have seen Mediterranea, familiarity with that film adds emotional resonance to this latest chapter (which is based on a 2014 short). Koudous Seihon, who played Mediterranea’s anxious protagonist, African refugee Ayiva, also returns for A Ciambra, and there’s pleasure and sadness in seeing how these two characters have changed. While Ayiva has accepted the limited prospects available to him as a foreigner, Pio seems rather more anguished than when we last saw him.

A Ciambra may be a conventional tale of a young man trying to find himself, but the writer-director’s attention to detail enriches that setup. Not only are Amato’s family members playing the character’s family, but Tim Curtin’s observant, fly-on-the-wall camerawork emphasizes the stark reality that Pio faces. Just as Ayiva had to become a thief in order to survive so does Pio, and the film’s scenes of random larcenies exude no electric thrill. Instead, Pio’s thieving has a blunt, dog-eat-dog urgency.

Amato doesn’t exude the plucky charm evident in Mediterranea, but that seems to be by design. Whereas in the first film he was a vibrant, streetwise negotiator, now there’s more weight on Pio’s shoulders. It’s not just that his brother and father have been arrested; the young man’s wary eyes reflect a world in which crime and hustling are the only paths to self-improvement.

The usual coming-of-age drama might involve a character confronting his hormones and pondering his future; no such luxuries await Pio, who has to prove his macho credentials, and even considers robbing Ayiva’s refugee community to help his own.

Just as Mediterranea boasted dispassionate, stripped-down storytelling that made Ayiva’s treacherous journey across Algeria and Libya all the more traumatic, Carpignano uses a similar approach with his new film. It’s inevitable, then, that this second chapter’s grim depiction of desperate lives can’t quite shock in the same way.

But there’s no romanticizing of the character’s dire straits, and Amato’s family members give terse, authentic performances that never allow for pity. And while the film’s ending may be unsurprising, Carpignano has made clear that a young man like Amato only has so many options.

Production companies: Stayblack Productions, RT Features, Sikelia Productions, Rai Cinema, DCM, Haut et Court, Film i Väst, Filmgate Films, MIBACT, the Aide aux Cinémas du Monde, CNC, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères et du Développement International, Institut Français, LU.CA

International sales: Luxbox, and

Producers: Jon Coplon, Paolo Carpignano, Ryan Zacarias, Gwyn Sannia, Rodrigo Teixeira, Marc Schmidheiny, Cristoph Daniel

Executive producers: Martin Scorsese, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Sophie Mas, Lourenço Sant’Anna, Daniela Lundgren Taplin, Alessio Lazzareschi, Dario Suter, Joel Brandeis

Cinematography: Tim Curtin

Production design: Marco Ascanio Viarigi

Editor: Affonso Gonçalves

Music: Dan Romer

Main Cast: Pio Amato, Iolanda Amato, Damiano Amato, Patrizia Amato, Rocco Amato, Koudous Seihon