Thirty-four year old Italian Riccardo Scamarcio may be one of the most underused and under appreciated of all Italian actors, but he’s not letting that stop him from working; his language skills have helped him land roles in French and English language movies.
Is he too good looking? Raoul Bova once said that good-looking actors have a hard time getting roles in Italy. Has Riccardo given himself a “boy-toy” reputation from his relationship with actress Valeria Golino, thirteen years his senior? Or maybe Italians just never appreciate their own actors as they should. Whatever the reason, the French don’t seem to have the same problem with him, and he proved himself a good bet in the 2009 Eden is West ( Eden à l’Ouest ) from director Costa-Gavras.
In Eden is West, Scamarcio plays Elias, a desperate man from an unnamed country who pays smugglers to get him to France. He’s been studying French for a year and he boards an overcrowded ship and throws his identification overboard when instructed to by the captain. When a police boat spots them Elias and his friend jump out and start swimming for shore; he gets separated from his friend and washes up on a nude beach at a fancy European resort.
This is a movie that could have been enough in the telling of the plight of illegal immigrants and becomes something more. It’s an adventure. It’s a road trip movie. It’s even funny, in parts. Can the story of a man who is hungry, beaten down, and on the brink of disaster be a funny, adventurous road trip movie? It can and it is.
Elias is a modern Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, and in more ways than one. He makes his way any way he can, making friends and avoiding the law, all with very few words. He’s learned a little French, but to get to France he must pass through countries in which he doesn’t understand what anyone is saying to him, so he does it silently, figuring it all out as he goes.
It may seem he’s in a hopeless situation in an uncaring society, but the truth is that he does make progress and he does it with small kindnesses from strangers; teenage girls who help him through subway turnstiles without paying. A widow who gives him her husband’s suit jacket so that it will be easier for him to find work. Maybe a guy who wasn’t quite so good looking might not have had even the meager luck that Elias was able to glean in his travels, but you use what you have; right?
Eden is West is sad and optimistic at the same time, and much of that is due to Scamarcio, who is perfect in the role of Elias. With his vulnerability and determination he is natural and believable and we Americans should look forward to him in upcoming English language movies, like Emma Thompson’s Effie, due to premier later this year.