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As a child in the 1970s, writer-director Claudio Noce stood in the wings while a leftwing terrorist group – the Armed Proletarian Cells – targeted his father, Rome’s deputy chief of police. The trauma, he says, harried him all his life before finally finding a catharsis of sorts with the making of Padrenostro, which competes for the top prize here in Venice. This, Noce’s third feature, marks his moment of unburdening. Unsurprisingly, then, it’s a personal picture, agonised and self-questioning, almost to a fault.
Noce’s alter-ego is Valerio (Mattia Garaci), an angelic-looking 10-year-old with a low-grade heart murmur and a penchant for solitary walks and wild flights of fancy. But his immediate surroundings feel horribly real. Wounded in an assassination attempt, his father Alfonso (Pierfrancesco Favino) now carries a handgun in his bag and flinches every time the front doorbell rings. Valerio isn’t sure what has happened or why, which naturally means that we’re in the dark, too. For most of its run, Padrenostro elects to view the harsh adult world from a child’s perspective. It’s like What Maisie Knew crossed with a supergrass gangster film.
One day, kicking a ball in the street, Valerio meets a local tearaway, Christian (Francesco Gheghi), and the two become friends. Christian might be described as a fairytale creature, akin to a talking fox or a forest elf. He’s a teacher, a trickster; fun company but not entirely to be trusted. He is also, of course, Noce’s own invention, an aid to self-therapy. In real life the director was Valerio – but there was no kid called Christian.
Should this be a problem? Ordinarily not. And yet, crucially, Noce himself seems in two minds as to how to properly fold the character of Christian in with his wider tale. Or rather, he tries to have it both ways, playing bait-and-switch with the audience to the point where one is tempted to throw up one’s hands. The kid has a habit of vanishing like a conjurer’s apprentice whenever an adult shows up, which leads us to believe that Christian’s an imaginary friend or a ghost. But then, wait, now some adults have started seeing him, which either means that he’s real, or that they’re all ghosts just like him.
What can’t be faulted is Noce’s sheer boldness and ambition. If Padrenostro winds up as a bit of a mess, it’s a beautiful mess, a glorious mess: gliding from the palm-sweatingly tense scenes inside the family apartment to the sun-splashed coast of Calabria which again may be real, or some golden vision of the afterlife. Watching the film feels like taking a deep dive through the director’s subconscious, stumbling upon locked and barnacled chests perhaps even he has yet to prise open.
In one early scene, just after the assassination attempt, young Valerio is handed a Super 8 camera by Alfonso’s best friend. “You want to shoot?” says the friend. “Look, it’s really easy.” And so the kid hoists the thing like a handgun and shoots his mum and his dad and his little sister by the window. Four decades later, he’ll turn the camera around and use it on himself.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Padrenostro review – a deep dive into a director’s subconscious | Venice film festival 2020