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November 28, 2014

The best films you’ve never seen

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A circus feature with a gritty edge

A scene from La pivellina.

By Pablo Suárez
For the Herald

Patricia is a red-haired woman in her fifties, a circus performer who finds a two-year-old-girl abandoned in the trailer park where she lives in the outskirts of Rome. The little girl carries a note from her mother saying she’ll be back soon. Obviously, the girl’s mother has abandoned her daughter for good, and there’s nobody to take care of her.

That is until Patricia shows up. She takes the girl (her name is Aia) with her to her trailer next to the circus. It’s here that Aia meets other circus-people who give her a warm welcome. Aided by Taio (a young teen), Patti starts looking for the girl’s mother. In the meantime, she lovingly takes care of Aia, who now lives with the circus’ troupe. People here lack money but, instead, they have something much more important: they have love.

Thanks to their love, Aia starts living a different life.

Such is the storyline of La pivellina, a highly praised Italian film directed by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel released locally two weeks ago. Featured at this year’s edition of the Bafici (Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema), and winner of the Label Europe Cinemas at Cannes 2009, La pivellina is the first fiction feature by documentary makers Covi and Frimmel. It’s a fiction film pretty much made under well known documentary conventions (unobtrusive, observant camerawork; realistic photography with available light only; a mise en scène with just the bare essentials), a film that blurs the thin line between fiction and reality – a common trend in contemporary cinema. And it couldn’t have been done better. A small gem, if you will.

Think of a modest, low-keyed feature, with neither flashy visuals nor stylized realism, but instead, with a raw and compelling realistic edge. This is the kind of film that is not structured around a plot with significant episodes or one with unexpected twists and turns. On the contrary, it’s about observing and depicting everyday life. A cinema that has to do with capturing slices of life, with constructing characters that are at the core of the narrative itself – the everyday as seen through an insightful, profound gaze. 
To many people, this could be one of those films where “nothing happens.” Yet, it’s filled with great drama delivered in a perfectly executed fashion. The directors’ keen eye reveals subtleties and shades that make up a rich canvas. As the film unfolds, viewers become privileged witnesses of an intimate and heartfelt story – a story about love and human bonds. And this is also the kind of film that could have gone awry if the directors had not taken the necessary precautions to avoid an exotic, picturesque depiction of a multilayered universe not seen too often.

A character-driven feature such as La pivellina relies on excellent acting (among other things), and in order to rise up to such a challenge the directors came up with a method for working with non-professional actors: “We wrote a script with a well-defined beginning and ending. The difficulty was deciding whether or not to include scenes from the real life of the protagonists without interrupting the rhythm of the story. The dialogue wasn’t written beforehand. An hour before shooting we’d talk to Patty, Walter, or Tairo (the adults and the teen) and tell them things about the scenes. They took it from there and improvised. In this way, we accomplished quite a few memorable moments”.

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