Flying Lessons

Flying Lessons


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Every summer, thousands of young people from all across Europe go to India to find themselves. Pollo and Curry's parents still didn't expect it. They were both bright boys, doing well at school, but suddenly, in a fit of inexplicable malaise, they stopped attending classes. They took all that money that was supposed to buy them a comfortable modern lifestyle and they hopped on a bus. Now they're gone, and the parents are trying to be calm about it, but are missing them terribly and are all the more worried when they hear they never reached their hotel.

The trouble with going to India to find oneself is that most of the people who do it make little contact with the country as it really is, insulated by their money and the colour of their skin. Not so for these two. Curry was adopted from India as a child and, though he identifies strongly as Italian, during his stay he finds himself gradually won over by a culture keen to adopt him as its own. Both the boys lose their money and papers "like a couple of idiots" and are in serious trouble when they meet sympathetic Medicaid doctor Chiara, who takes them to the desert village where she works and finds them useful things to do. Overwhelmed by her friendliness and apparent sense of purpose, Pollo falls in love.

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We've all seen these teenage boy, older woman rights-of-passage films before. Flying Lessons is perhaps a little different in that Pollo is not the only one trying to anchor himself through this awkward relationship. We get the impression that Chiara keeps him around partly in order to convince herself she's a grown-up. She seems just as shiftless as he is, mistaking being useful for having a direction in life. She's also married to a fellow aid-worker who is hard at work in Sri Lanka, who is patient with her but can only take so much.

The main weakness of Flying Lessons is that it has inherited some of this shiftlessness itself, unsure whether it wants to be a traditional romantic epic, a hymn to rural India or a modern tale of youthful angst in a largely uncaring world. To its credit, whilst it features plenty of beautiful imagery, it doesn't shrink from showing the desperation, violence and poverty afflicting many ordinary Indians' lives, and it does a good job of undermining the myth of the white saviour. But it hinges on a central performance by Andrea Miglio Risi (as Pollo) which just isn't that good. All those soulful looks may seem meaningful to similarly angst-ridden teenagers but they're not very interesting otherwise, serving to convey little in terms of shifting mood or character arc. He's acted off the screen by Tom Angel Kharumaty (as Curry) but, ironically, the darker skinned boy's story doesn't get nearly the same amount of screentime.

Despite this, Flying Lessons offers some refreshing perspectives on a subject that's been done to death, and a few salutory warnings for young people keen to immerse themselves in the same kind of learning experience. Of all its characters, only Curry seems to find what he's looking for, and he does so through an unexpected encounter that cannot help but remind one of the people he's abandoned back in Rome.

Reviewed on: 13 Apr 2009
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Flying Lessons packshot
Two Italian boys travel to India to find themselves, but get more than they bargained for.

Director: Francesca Archibugi

Writer: Francesca Archibugi, Doriana Leondeff

Starring: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Andrea Miglio Risi, Anna Galiena, Angela Finocchiaro, Flavio Bucci, Roberto Citran, Tom Angel Kharumaty, Manuela Spartà, Maria Paiato, Riccardo Zinna

Year: 2007

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: Italy, France, India


Italian 2009

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