Everyone has had a summer like the one experienced by Michele, the 10-year-old boy in Italian director Gabriele Salvatores’ nearly flawless film. True, many of us did not have to experience the nasty business of discovering a naked, bleeding boy stuck in a hole. Nor did we uncover sinister, criminal enterprises exposed as we were laying our young heads to rest after playing in wheat fields all day. But we have had summers like Michele’s, when our eyes were forced open to reveal that life can be dark, cruel and truly dangerous.
Although the events described in this beautiful and simple film are not the stuff of everyday experience, they resonate with a stunning truth about innocence lost and of courage discovered. All who see it are transported to a time when the world gave up to us some of its secrets, and we were never the same again.
I’m Not Scared takes place in rural southern Italy. The entire village consists of about seven decrepit, ancient buildings. The year is 1978, but the village is so isolated and poor it lends the film a certain timelessness. This dreamlike quality is captured in the opening sequences, when we see Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) and his younger sister running through the waving, golden wheat fields trying to catch up to their gang of friends. It is one of those childhood days that seems to go on forever, those days when the sun never sets and there is adventure in the air. The children’s destination is an old, abandoned house sitting among fields of grain like an Egyptian ruin. When Michele returns to the broken, collapsing structure to retrieve his sister’s glasses, he accidentally uncovers a hole in the ground concealed by a thin plate of metal and a pile of hay.
The audience watches as Michele peers down the hole and glimpses a dirty ankle and foot sticking out from a blanket. The sight of it scares him off, but he returns the next day to discover that the foot belongs to a boy his own age, feral in appearance, unable to open his eyes.
As Michele slowly comes to realize just who this young boy is, and how his tiny village, how his poor but happy family all have connections to this boy stuck deep below those swaying fields of gold, the dream that is his life becomes a sun-scorched nightmare. The arms that held him, the very home that protected him are things he must now run away from.
I’m Not Scared is a beautiful, poetic film that captures those days we never get back, when we begin to understand that there is a terrible, suffocating darkness just under our feet.
In Italian with English subtitles. Showing exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, west of Telegraph). Call 248-263-2111.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].