The very young Swamy Rotolo won the David di Donatello Award for Best Leading Actress (the Italian Oscar) in A Chiara, directed by Joans Carpignano. The film conquered the festival circuit, starting from Cannes where it earned the Best European Film Prize, as part of the Europa Cinemas Label competition of the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs; as well as the Award for Best Film at the Zurich Film Festival.
The family drama is set in Calabria — the Italian region famous for its sprawling beaches, the Greek settlements that made it go by the name of Magna Græcia, the delicious horn-shaped red chilli pepper (peperoncino), the traditional Calabrian spreadable spicy sausage (Nduja), and the regional Mafia called ‘Ndrangheta. A Chiara unveils only the latter aspect of this land, through the story of the Guerrasio family.
The whole family has gathered to celebrate the 18th birthday of Chiara’s older sister. Everyone seems happy and close-knit. But the day after the party the father, Claudio, without any warning leaves their hometown of Gioia Tauro — the municipality that serves all the business controlled by the ‘Ndrangheta, from Colombian cocaine to the illegal arms trade. The 15 year old Chiara, with a strong and determined character, wants to understand what prompted her father to disappear. All this will lead her to look at her loved ones and her town with new eyes and to question her future.
Director Jonas Carpignano, born in 1984 from a Barbadian mother and the great-nephew of Italian filmmaker Luciano Emmer, grew up between Rome and New York. But Calabria is his elected land of inspiration: his muse. Carpignano’s first feature film, Mediterranea, was selected in Cannes in 2015, whilst his second feature, A Ciambra, premiered in 2017 at the Directors’ Fortnight. With A Chiara, Carpignano concludes his Trilogy about Gioia Tauro, where his three features were shot. As an artistic device to link the three films, his latest film features two significant cameos: that of Koudous Seihon from Mediterranea and that of Pio Amato from A Ciambra.
Following the style of his previous works, Carpignano prefers non-professional actors, to which he dedicates time in character construction through a spontaneous process that allows the script to develop during filming. This approach, that reminds the Neorealistic method, is combined with a cinematography that utilises an intentionally low resolution. The use of the hand-held camera combined with swift wide shots, along with the frequent soft-blur effects and blending of the diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, create a dark fairytale mystique.
This final chapter of Carpignano’s Calabrian triptych is a traditional coming-of-age story, where our heroine, Chiara, needs to make a choice between the love for her family and the urge to be reborn to a new life and shape her true identity. Once she acknowledges the suffocating reality that lies ahead if she follows in her father’s footsteps, she needs to decide whether to shuffle off the compromising coil. Thus, the film brings to attention the ‘Free to choose’ programme that aids women and children who want to leave Italy’s mafia clans. This initiative of the Italian judiciary was created to break the generational cycle of crime families.
This story reflects the spiralling effect of how the sins of the fathers are to be laid upon the children. There is a long list of women from ‘Ndrangheta families, who couldn’t cope with the weight of a surname that was synonymous with extortion, exploitation and murders. An example was Maria Rita Lo Giudice the daughter of an ‘Ndrangheta boss, who committed suicide in 2017. But there are also those who found the courage to defy this criminal organisation. Two of these brave females are even mentioned in A Chiara: Giuseppina Pesce and Maria Concetta Cacciola. Their courage has inspired a Disney+ TV series that will produce The good mothers, about the ‘Ndrangheta and the women who challenged it. It will chronicle the stories of Pesce and Cacciola, as well as that of Lea Garofalo. Through his filmic storytelling, Jonas Carpignano has definitely paved the way to do justice to these righteous rebels.
Final Grade: B+