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Why Jonas Carpignano’s mafia movie To Chiara is a hit

Why Jonas Carpignano’s mafia movie To Chiara is a hit
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Why Jonas Carpignano’s mafia movie To Chiara is a hit

Why Jonas Carpignano’s mafia movie To Chiara is a hit

TO CHIARA ★★★★

(M) 121 minutes, in cinemas

The Rotolos are a raucous Calabrian family of five. At first sight, they seem to have only one thing on their minds – the eldest daughter, Giulia’s, 18th birthday party and her proud father’s reluctance to make a speech.

Non-professional actor Swamy Rotolo plays Chiara, who has no idea her father is in the Calabrian mafia.

Non-professional actor Swamy Rotolo plays Chiara, who has no idea her father is in the Calabrian mafia. Credit:Palace Films

Toasts are not his thing, he says. He’s no good at them. Instead, he puts on a pair of funny spectacles and joins in the tomfoolery that helps to make the celebration a roaring success.

Claudio’s love for his family is clear to anyone who cares to look. Less obvious is the means by which he makes his living. Like all the men in his extended family, he’s a member of the ’Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia, which, it seems, goes about its business with minimum disruption to the everyday life of Gioia Tauro, the coastal town where the Rotolos live.

Giulia’s 15-year-old sister, Chiara (Swamy Rotolo), for instance, has no inkling of this unacknowledged home truth about her beloved father until the night he is forced to go on the run.

This is the third feature the film’s writer-director Jonas Carpignano has made in Gioia Tauro since he moved there in 2010. Over the years, he’s got to know its residents well enough to do without professional actors in favour of casting locals in the main roles and the risk has reaped rich rewards.

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While there is a predictably crucial difference between the Rotolos and their fictional counterparts, in that the real-life Claudio does not belong to the mafia, the easy-going spontaneity of the family scenes is so persuasive it’s hardly surprising the film has become a festival circuit favourite since taking out the Best European Film award during Directors’ Fortnight at last year’s Cannes festival.

A fan of the extreme close-up, Carpignano works a little too hard at building an air of menace into his narrative. The sound design, which rumbles along with an insistence suggesting an earth tremor, is merely distracting. But it does give you a sense of the way the world is starting to close in on Chiara as she learns more about her father’s hidden life.

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