To Chiara (A Chiara) – Film Review

From writer-director Jonas Carpignano comes the third film in his Calabrian trilogy – To Chiara (A Chiara), an Italian coming-of-age story that follows 15-year-old Chiara Guerrasio, played by Swamy Rotolo, as she comes to grips with dramatic changes within her family.

We first meet Chiara at the gym, running on a treadmill. Right away, Carpignano establishes the kind of person Chiara is; someone constantly running from one trouble to another. Soon after meeting Chiara, we meet the rest of her family, mum Carmela and dad Claudio, older sister Giulia and youngest sister Giorgia, all played by Swamy Rotolo’s real-life family.

The Guerrasio clan are presented as your typical family. The atmosphere in their home is warm and loving, shown by the sisters’ spirited bickering and the way Claudio sits closely with his children as they watch TV. Family photos adorn the walls of the living room, no doubt lifted directly from the Rotolo family’s home.

Pretty quickly we are also introduced to the Guerrasio’s inner circle, as their friends and extended family come together to celebrate Giulia’s 18th birthday. There’s dances and speeches, and then at the end of the night things take a slight turn. While sneaking a cigarette with her friend, a group of mobsters approach the party and catch the attention of Chiara’s cousins and dad. Later that night, in a flurry of hushed voices and a seemingly random car explosion, Claudio disappears.

To Chiara’s puzzlement, everyone is acting like nothing is wrong. Carmela’s behaviour would have you believe her husband was simply in another room, and older sister Giulia hasn’t said a word either. Taking it upon herself to uncover the truth of the situation, Chiara starts to pull at the threads of her family, leading her down a rabbit hole of secrets, lies and teenage delinquency.

To put it bluntly, Chiara is not a good person. Teenagers so rarely are, but there’s something else about Chiara that is so excruciatingly hard to watch. Maybe it’s a result of being raised in a small, rough-and-tumble town or maybe the wiring in her brain is just jumbled, but Chiara’s upbringing in a close-knit, loving family should have turned her into a kind-hearted and sympathetic young woman, but instead she relishes in causing trouble. With her gaggle of girlfriends, Chiara displays a pathological need for power and control through acts as simple as bullying a local Romani girl into leaving an entirely vacant public area because it’s “their spot” and as violent as throwing a lit firecracker into the same girl’s face in a warped and needless act of revenge.

The plot as a whole also doesn’t seem to have much direction. Are we supposed to feel empathetic towards Chiara’s situation? It’s hard to do that when she acts with a blatant disregard for herself and her family’s safety. Are we supposed to feel proud of her growth by the end of it all? Maybe we could if Carpignano had shown Chiara going through a gradual positive change towards the final act, rather than being force fed a final scene that showed a complete 180° in her personality.

The film’s other downfall is with its cast. While concessions can be made for a novice cast, this cast’s lack of skill does not add anything to the film. The moments where this lack of training or experience is not a hindrance is when the Guerrasio family are doing utterly mundane tasks like having breakfast or enjoying each other’s company. The personal relationship between the cast is at its best in the beginning of the film and knowing that they are a family beyond the camera does give their characters’ relationship on-screen more sincerity. Beyond that, each character in To Chiara fell flat and ultimately were incredibly uninteresting. Even their cadence and inflections when they spoke were grating on the ears; this could have had very little to do with a lack of experience and been rooted in the dialect of the region, but regardless, it made every minute of dialogue a slog to get through.

At To Chiara‘s core, Carpignano was probably trying to make a statement about how destabilising life in a mafia family is, or anti-Romani sentiment, but truthfully none of that was actually able to be reflected in the finished product. To Chiara had the potential to be an interesting and powerful dissection of teen life on the brink of chaos, but sadly it was an irritating mess instead.

To Chiara (A Chiara) is showing as part of the Italian Film Festival.
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