A Chiara

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Chiara
"Full of unspoken pain and resentment, the treasured Chiara carries her father’s sins in his absence as she struggles to decide which course to follow in her own life." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Chiara (played with surprising finesse by non-professional actor Swamy Rotolo) is a real daddy’s girl. We meet her first at a party where she’s snuggling into him, beaming with pride because she’s the centre of his attention. He plainly adores her, loves to spoil her, and yet there are things about him that she doesn’t begin to understand. Why are people so deferential towards him? Where has all her family’s money come from? She is only just beginning to realise that not everybody grows up with the comforts she has known, only just beginning to ask questions – and when her father abruptly disappears, she will have a whole lot more.

How does a family entrenched in organised crime explain it to young people as they come of age? Most famously tackled in The Sopranos, this has become a key storyline for the early 21st Century, perhaps because it acts as a metaphor for the kind of guilt parents increasingly feel as they talk to their teenagers about the state of today’s world. This film doesn’t offer anything particularly new (though it’s more realistic than most in addressing the complexity of interwoven power structures), but it’s an interesting character study which blends personal coming-of-age drama with observations on the way that centuries-old power structures have managed the transition to the modern age, and questions as to how well equipped they are to survive within it.

This is Calabria, where feudalism never really went away. Democratic structures and the formal judicial system have existed mostly for show, but now a new group of prosecutors is carving its way through the infrastructure of the ‘Ndrangheta. not only are people getting arrested, but new initiatives are underway to interrupt the processes by which the mafia reproduces itself: to prompt the younger generation to develop a fresh moral perspective on its activities which may alter their choices even if they are born to power.

When Chiara’s father disappears, her mother hesitates to give her any in-depth explanation, but there’s no real chance for her to cover up the truth – the teenager learns from the television that there’s a warrant out for his arrest. She tries to pry information from others in the family and is frustrated by their unwillingness to indulge her. Highly emotional and impulsive as she is, they naturally fear that she will be unable tp keep secrets. The problem is that she’s smart and resourceful, so their silence merely inspires her to begin a direct investigation, digging around and spying on those close to her, oblivious to the dangers this may pose for all involved.

Not everything here rings true. Some of Chiara’s father’s secrets are so obvious that one wonders why he bothered with them at all. He is simultaneously able to elude the authorities and really badly organised in some aspects of his life. Director Jonas Carpignano shines when it comes to depicting the local area and its diverse communities. His previous films, Mediterranea and A Ciambra, were also set there, and some characters overlap. The narrow, winding streets of the town with their numerous small doorways contribute substantially to the atmosphere, with the emptiness of the surrounding countryside giving the impression that this place is the centre of the world and going some way towards explaining the obsessiveness of those who feel that it belongs to them. The Roma community, hovering on the edge of the action, sometimes involved in family dealings but never taken for granted, represent an alien world to Chiara, bringing out something within her which she may have in common with her father.

Full of unspoken pain and resentment, the treasured Chiara carries her father’s sins in his absence as she struggles to decide which course to follow in her own life. A lifestyle he saw as easy suddenly takes on a new dimension. The final scene presents us with another party. Three years have passed, and our heroine is very different. Something has permanently changed within her, more than is usual with age alone. The brightness has vanished forever.

Reviewed on: 20 Dec 2021
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The Guerrasio family and their friends gather to celebrate Claudio and Carmela’s oldest daughter’s 18th birthday. There is a healthy rivalry between the birthday girl and her 16-year-old sister Chiara, as they compete on the dancefloor. It is a happy occasion, and the close-knit family is in top form. However, everything changes the next day when Claudio disappears...

Director: Jonas Carpignano

Writer: Jonas Carpignano

Starring: Grecia Rotolo, Swamy Rotolo, Silvana Palumbo, Rosa Caccamo, Claudio Rotolo, Carmelo Rotolo

Year: 2021

Runtime: 121 minutes

Country: Italy, France


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