A dizzying slice of social realist film-making from Italy, Jonas Carpignano’s A Ciambra tells the coming-of-age story of Pio Amato, a Romani teenager from a Calabrian housing estate called The Ciambra.
Using non-professional actors (I counted 24 members of the Amato family on the cast list), Carpignano immerses us in this world, to the point we almost drown in its authenticity. Comparisons can be made to Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah, but this is more tightly focused on one boy and his growing understanding of the world and it’s tough realities.
When his older brother and father are finally arrested and put away by the police, Pio is left as the family breadwinner, having to go out and enact his little scams and robberies to make some money every day to feed the scores of kids, sisters, women and old folks left in the Ciambra amid the scrap iron, tyres and burning mattresses.
Pio teams up with an African immigrant Ayiva, bringing him into contact with another nether-world, that of the Ghanaians in their shanty camp. Pio slowly gains their trust – his relationship with Ayiva is really touching – but will have his loyalties and principles gravely tested when his brother gets out.
What a discovery, although it’s loosely overseen by Martin Scorcese, so we’re hardly first on the scene. But this is still the stuff of top world cinema, a docu-style telling of a fictitious story that feels raw and true. It’s boosted by pop music and street sounds, by fabulous moments (meals, funerals, football games on TV) and remarkable access to world’s you’d never otherwise see – or probably even think about.