The director of two excellent coming of age films celebrates 39 years today, one, Fiore (Flower), nominated this year for David di Donatello Awards for Best Film, Best Director, and various other prizes.
Claudio Giovannesi’s story of “Daphne goes to Juvie” covers events that occur throughout months, but Fiore feels more like a portrait, a snapshot, or chapter 3 in a book read independently, without ever having read chapters one and two and never having a chance to know the ending. In it, a teenager named Daphne is pretty much alone in the world and getting by stealing cellphones by robbing people at knifepoint. It was only a matter of time before she’s caught and sent to a juvenile detention center.
Daphne is an adolescent combination of rage, depression, and childlike girliness, chain smoking, getting into tussles with the other girls, and mooning over a guy in the boy’s section. What she is longing for in her life is unclear, probably because she’s not used to getting anything of value or having anything go her way.
A visit from her father, a stepmother and stepbrother is a happy occasion, and the idea that she has a place to go when she gets out brings a gleam of hope to Daphne’s eye. But she’s so quiet, so uncommunicative, and so solitary that we really don’t know what she’s thinking.
The detention center is strict but not draconian, and I believe that American versions of this type of institution are probably so different and more prison-like, that Americans might find Daphne’s story unlikely and inaccurately fictional. I believe that Italian juvie is probably very different from the American counterpart, just as prison seems to be, if you can believe what you see in movies like the Taviani brothers’ Cesare Deve Morire. Italians seem to carry more emotion to almost every situation, and the “sorority house” feel that Giovannesi gives to this girl’s jailhouse is probably pretty accurate.
But maybe it’s because I’m American that in the end, I’m heartbroken instead of uplifted. When I fill in the blanks of the first few chapters and the end of Daphne’s book, I don’t see much hope. If this is a love story, it’s a twisted one, but maybe that’s just my American cynicism showing its ugly head.
Newcomer Daphne Scoccia, playing Daphne, is a revelation and I can’t wait to see what she does next. Her father, played by Valerio Mastandrea is great as always, and Giovannesi tells their story with a delicacy and sweetness that plays so well off the raw harshness in the life of a teenage runaway.
Giovannesi’s earlier work Alì Ha Gli Occhi Azzuri (Alì Blue Eyes) is an equally compelling story that centers around 16-year-old Egyptian-Italian Nader, whose parents were born in Egypt but he in Italy. Though his parents would like to keep their customs and religious beliefs alive in their new country, it isn’t easy.
Teenagers rebel, and Nader’s rebellion is in the form of a pretty young Italian girlfriend. “I love her”, he tells his family when they say that he’s got to stop seeing her. For them, it’s just a teenage infatuation and out of the question. And though Nader and his girlfriend may be a modern version of Romeo and Juliet, Nader’s story hints at what might have become of Romeo and Juliet if they had continued their relationship. Would Romeo and Juliet really have left their families and never looked back?
“We’re Muslim. We have different ways from the Italians. Mostly religion”, says Nader’s mother and when she locks him out of the house one night when he gets home after midnight and he vows never to return as long as she won’t accept his girlfriend. “I’ll teach her a lesson”, Nader says of his mother, but he doesn’t realize that this is a lesson that can not be taught. His mother will not give up her convictions, even for her son.