It Was The Son

It Was The Son


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"I once knew a son who killed his father over a scratch on a car," says the man in the waiting room.

It's one of several odd statements he's made, maybe just trying to get somebody to keep him company; but this time it captures people's attention, perhaps because there has just been a car crash outside and they are all acutely, albeit briefly, aware of their mortality. So, though the strangers come and go, we are plunged into the recollection of a family drama spanning many months. It feels like a meandering shaggy dog story full of disparate elements; only at its conclusion do the threads come together, abruptly shifting it into much darker territory. This is an opera disguised as a soap opera, its sweeping themes hidden among the minutiae of day to day life. By turns comic and tragic, it permanently disposes of Italian cimema's romantic notions about poverty.

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The Ciraulos are not destitute but life is hard. They live on a crumbling housing estate where even running water cannot be guaranteed, drive around in battered cars and struggle on a quit, ongoing basis to put enough food on the table. Nicola (Toni Servillo) is the only one working and he has a large extended family to provide for. When sudden tragedy strikes it seems to drain his last reserves of strength - until a friend suggests that he might be able to get compensation. Could an injection of cash turn the family's fortunes around or do their problems run deeper?

It's difficult to tell a story like this without mocking people simply for being poor but Cipri, adapting Roberto Alaimo's novel, avoids that trap by presenting us with characters whose decisions make sense in context even when they are obviously flawed. Even Nicola's desire to buy a Mercedes, typical of men in his circumstances, is sympathetically presented, reminding us of the dearth of respect he has experienced in his life. Different aspects of community - the smiling local money-lender, the shopkeepers who know everybody, the kids exploding aerosol cans together on a fire in the backyard - reveal a way of life that exists on its own terms, not as a feeble copy of something else. But there are darker aspects to this. One might be forgiven for not having a job if one still, somehow, brings in money. There are mafiosi not so far away. There is a complete absence of any apparent support or protection from the state.

Keeping us focused as the story meanders is Cipri's own elegant cinematography, which finds a poetry in the grimmest of places. Sometimes quirky and playful, sometimes dazzling, his distinctive imagery pefectly complements that meshing of mundane moments and grand themes. It contributes an existential dimension to the tale, reminding us that even as the struggle for survival plays out there is the potential to dream of something more - making the ending all the crueller. This is a rambling yarn well told, and it's a treat for the senses throughout.

Reviewed on: 01 Apr 2013
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A dysfunctional family struggles to survive in a challenging environment, but might wealth make things even worse?

Director: Daniele Ciprì

Writer: Daniele Ciprì and Massimo Gaudioso, based on the book by Roberto Alaimo.

Starring: Toni Servillo, Giselda Volodi, Alfredo Castro, Fabrizio Falco, Aurora Quattrocchi

Year: 2012

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy

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