Italian neorealism resurfaces in Italian-New York-born director Jonas Carpignano’s “A Ciambra,” a window onto the unrelenting marginal existence of Rom (gypsies), here firmly planted in the degraded and corrupt Italian South.
In an early scene, an older brother shows a barely pubescent Pio Amato (Pio Amato) how to hot-wire and steal a car. And 14-year-old Pio gives his baby brother a cigarette, as that little guy curses his sister, who doesn’t even complain, showing us this child has already learned the masculine dominance that permeates this society.
Carpignano’s cast is mostly the all-too-real 15 members of one Rom family, the Amatos, whose profession is simply crime. They steal cars, copper, electricity, luggage, anything they can. They are pawns in a world inhabited by the “Italians” (always in quotation marks), gangsters who exploit the Rom below them on the social order; by the police, who extract exorbitant fines and deprive the family of the working (albeit at crime) men for long stretches; and by African refugees, who have their own criminality, community and marginality. Close-ups and night scenes contribute to the sense of claustrophobia that represents the Rom experience.
Pio’s trajectory into manhood within the Rom clan is challenged by his relationship with an older African immigrant, Ayiva (Koudous Seihon), who treats Pio with more brotherly kindness and guidance than his own kin do.
“A Ciambra” is a remarkable film with an even more remarkable cast of non-professional actors that exposes, without moralizing, the dyads of an expanding world and tribalism, of self-identity and the group, of friendship and family.