(director/writer: Jonas Carpignano; cine matographer: Tim Curtin; editor: Affonso Gonçalves ; music: Dan Romer/Benh Zeitlin; cast: Swamy Rotolo(Chiara), Claudio Rotolo (Claudio), Grecia Rotolo (Giula), Carmelo Fumo (Carmelo), Antonina Fumo  (Nina), Vincenzo Rotolo (Enzo), Giorgia Rotolo (Giorgia); Runtime:121; MPAA Rating: NR; producers; Jon Coplon, Paolo Carpignano, Ryan Zacarias, Jonas Carpignano: Neon; 2021-Italy/France/Sweden-in Italian)

“A fierce coming-of-age story about the loss of innocence.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Written and directed by the Italian-American Jonas Carpignano(“Mediterranea”/”A Ciambra”) as the third leg of a trilogy focusing on the same town, Gioia Tauro, in the Calabria region of Italy,  in which he previously used to tell different stories. One is of the plight of the North African refugees who turn up there and deal with all kinds of issues that include racism, and in A Ciambra there’s the telling of how the Romani family exists in that town through the years. Characters will overlap in these three films. In A Chiara, his flawed but most accomplished film of the trio, Carpignano gets the most out of the non-professional actors and his filmmaking is more accomplished.

The film played at the recent New York Film Festival.

A Chiara is a fierce coming-of-age story about the loss of innocence. It’s set in a small town in today’s Calabria called Gioia Tauro (viewed as a model for the world). The focus in A Chiara is on the 15-year-old girl, Chiara (Swamy Rotolo), who is upset when she realizes her father Claudio (Claudio Rotolo) is not who she thinks he is–but a member of the Mafia–who is forced to abandon the family.

The headstrong Chiara (Swamy Rotolo), her father’s favorite, lives happily as a privileged teen in a big house with her parents (Carmelo Fumo & Claudio Rotolo) and two sisters, the 18-year-old Giulia (Grecia Rotolo) and the baby of the family Giorgia (Giorgia Rotolo). In real-life, they’re the Rotolo family.

On the night of Giula’s 18th birthday party, there’s a drive by car bombing near the family house and Chiara sees her father Claudio running over roof-tops to escape.

On the next day’s news broadcast, Chiara learns that her dad is a middleman for a Mafia organization called the ’Ndrangheta, and is now a wanted fugitive. It quickly sinks in what she can’t believe is true. Determined to find her missing secretive father Chiara, to the Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin throbbing score, sets out to search for him through her contacts.

However things turn rotten when the government’s social services program acts to try and bring an unwilling Chiara into foster care until she’s 18.

In her continued search for dad, Chiara makes contact with the Romani community and the area where the Black refugees reside, where there are hints dad is hiding. Unfortunately, this part of the film dragged and became too conventional for an arthouse indie. The suspense never kicked in and its chases and narrow escape scenes were weak.

What was strong throughout was the riveting performance by Swamy Rotolo, who shows she can be a star and carry a film on her back.

The search for dad (and her family roots) has Chiara growing up fast. She is now caught between being a playful emotional teen and an anxious young adult with some responsibilities. But what Chiara is and what she becomes is never made clear. As Carpignano, after his splendid first half of the film, in the second half never makes it clear what he’s driving at. Even if the odd coming-of-age story gives us a different level of scope, it still in the end is incomplete when it shouldn’t have been at a 2 hour running time.

A Chiara poster

REVIEWED ON 11/26/2021  GRADE: B-