I Am Not Scared (Io non ho paura)

I Am Not Scared (Io non ho paura) is a film about the time  when a child is transformed from a playmate into a moral being, and awakened to the darkness of adult choices and his own. The beauty is both boys in the story become aware of what it means to try and save someone, and to be saved. To become aware that we are our brother’s keeper.

It is 1978 and Michele (mee-kel-lay)lives in a remote and impoverished village in Southern Italy with his little sister, mother and itinerant father. He and his friends discover an abandoned farmhouse one day. Michele makes his own discovery – a pit covered with tin and straw. From his perch he sees a foot and it moves. It is a young boy.

He returns over and over again during this incredibly hot and golden summer, arcross the waving fields of wheat, and never says anything about this boy – who is 10 years old, like himself. Yet, he befriends him and brings him food and water. The boy is shackled to the wall, and practically blinded from sores and darkness. When a friend of Michele’s father comes to visit, Michele senses menace. He overhears a newscast about a kidnapped boy with a plea from the boys mother. He listens to his parents, neighbors and this friend talk. Slowly he puts everything together and realizes the growing danger surrounding him.

Michele turns into a hero and places himself in harm’s way for the sake of the innocent boy.

I Am Not Scared is a completely different kind of film because everything is told from Michele’s perspective. We want him to call the police, to do something, but it does not occur to him because he does not understand – at first. This is a fine and in its own way a satisfying film about the possibilities for heroism and generosity in children as they grow up in that “inbetween” time just before adolescence. What is disappointing is the adult behavior. Although we never find out the reason for the kidnapping, this is not what the film is about. It is about humanity, the good, the bad and the ugly. The good endures.

I am familiar with another film by this director, Gabriele Salvatores. He made a film called Denti that was in competition for the 2000 Venice Film Festival – I was on the Catholic jury so I saw it there. Again, a film the likes of which I have never seen. A man has such horrible teeth that he goes through anything and everything to have an acceptable smile. If you have spent any time in a dentist’s chair, you might be able to imagine how this film can make you feel. The dentists of the world could have sued Salvatores for this…

Perhaps this is Gabriele Salvatores’ gift: he can make you feel a movie in ways that I seldom experience. There is great depth in I Am Not Scared (I wish they had translated it: I am not afraid…)

The Lovely Bones: A Novel

People have asked me what I thought of Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel, and until now I have only been able to say that I hadn’t read it.

I finished it over Memorial Day weekend. So many emotions… terror, loss, chaos, distance – and a whole rethinking of what heaven means to me.

When 14 year old Susie disappears, we discover what happened to her becasue she narrates it from heaven – a “place” that is different for everyone. She even has an intake counselor who was also murdered…

Susie tells the story of her rape, murder and how her body was cut up and disposed of by her murderer. From above, and then in a chapter reminiscent of the film Ghost, Susie  inhabits the body of a friend, to see what making love us like, before she goes to heaven forever.

Truth be told, I liked Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play Our Town better because it was about death and loss, from the side of life and afterlife. It too offered an opportunity to examine what the next life might be like.

The Lovely Bones is very contemporary and we are spared no details as the family tries to adjust, as the case grows cold, of the father’s unrelenting search for his daughter’s murderer.

I just don’t think that Susie’s heaven does it for me, though the struggle of the family seems realistic and concludes in a mostly satisfying way. Like The Sixth Sense, souls who in life were murdered or put to death for no reason, are in a “place” until someone redeems them – a place of waiting for justice. The book ends, but there is no real sense of justice for Susie because the crime is never really solved.

What will heaven be like? “In my Father’s house there are many mansions,” Jesus told us. “If it were not so, I would not have told you.”

Whatever these mansions might be like is no matter, as long as we can linger in the presence of transcendent, eternal love. The Lovely Bones did not quite do it for me. Is this the heaven of citizens of the West in the 21st century? I hope for more.

January 2010: A note about the film: ditto.