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…)