In A CIAMBRA, a small Romani community in Calabria, Pio Amato is desperate to grow up fast. At 14, he drinks, smokes and is one of the few to easily slide between the region’s factions – the local Italians, the African refugees and his fellow Romani. Pio follows his older brother Cosimo everywhere, learning the necessary skills for life on the streets of their hometown. When Cosimo disappears and things start to go wrong, Pio sets out to prove he’s ready to step into his big brother’s shoes but soon finds himself faced with an impossible decision that will show if he is truly ready to become a man.
Continuing from Mediterranea (winner of the Discovery Award in the Critics’ Week at the 68th Cannes Film Festival), where he traced the dramatic journey of black immigrants from Burkina Faso to Calabria, Jonas Carpignano decided to remain in this troubled region in the south of Italy to tell the story of another marginalised community: the Roma. A Ciambra, presented at the Directors’ Fortnight of the 70th Cannes Film Festival, was shot in the neighbourhood of the same name in Gioia Tauro – defined by journalists as a real ghetto, a “ship” on solid ground that tends to be subject to raids by security forces to recover stolen objects. In a style that pays homage to the Italian neo-realist school (“cinephile” Martin Scorsese is the film’s executive producer), Carpignano traces the rite of passage to adulthood of Pio Amato, a 14-year-old Roma boy who keeps saying “I’m grown up now” and thus acts accordingly. The director, who has been living in Gioia for seven years, goes back to his roots (his father Paolo, the film’s co-producer was born there) by writing a script between reality and fiction, inserting experiences, episodes, customs and traditions of the inhabitants of the 17 buildings that make up the Roma village in the procured Ciambra. Carpignano met Pio when he was still a child while casting for Mediterranea (in which Pio did finally make an appearance) and remained impressed by his personality, which is why he decided to make A Ciambra over a number of years, assiduously visiting these people who “adopted” him.
In the film, Pio, kept away from “family affairs”, starts taking things into his own hands after being arrested for a theft committed by his father and brother (Damiano Amato). One example is how he returns a stolen car in exchange for money which he takes home to his mother. His friend and confidant Ayiva, a young boy from the local African minority (Koudous Seihon, protagonist of Mediterranea), takes care of him like a father. However one day, Pio steals from someone he should not have – a ‘Ndrangheta boss who has close ties to the family. The pace of the story is kept by the extraordinary editing of Affonso Gonçalves, who can already boast of a loaded CV: Carol by Todd Haynes, Paterson and Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch and Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin.
The use of amateur actors makes the film fascinating and very credible – a huge dynasty of sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, all with the same surname: Amato. The social degradation is plain to see and the relation of submission and cooperation between Mafioso families and the Roma is very realistic. Pio comes of age and his criminal education has hardly begun. In the words of the grandfather Emilian, which hold all the drama of a world that has turned its back on a past that was less fierce, more free and nomadic: “We were always in the street and no one told us what to do.”
— Camillo de Marco (Cineuropa)