The Ciambra (2017)

The Ciambra is an extraordinary first feature by Jonas Carpignano, a follow-up to Mediterraneo, that has ordinary people, non-professional actors, playing fictionalised versions of themselves in a reality-rooted drama.

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

by Alexa Dalby

The Ciambra

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

In a noisy, chaotic Roma community in a small southern Italian town, the numerous, multi-generational Amato family are living outside the law, getting by fiddling the electricity, and stealing and breaking up cars for the local Italian mob. When fourteen-year-old Pio’s elder brother and father are arrested, he tries to be a man and become the family breadwinner, practising the scams he’s learnt from them. He’s befriended by Ayiva (Burkinabé Koudous Seihon) from the nearby African migrant camp, who are just as much outsiders as the Roma, though they suffer even more racial prejudice than them from the native Italians.

And Pio’s is an extraordinary natural performance in this extraordinary drama. He’s a boy trying to a man, smoking, drinking and doing deals in clubs, yet he’s too shy to kiss a girl and he’s scared of lifts and trains. Kindly Ayiva is the closest he has to a father figure and the nearby African community of mainly Ghanaians he lives among, though also struggling to survive, are welcoming and accepting.

A Ciambra – the name of the run-down tenement block the Amato family lives in – is executive produced by Martin Scorsese. It’s vibrant and poignant in a contemporary neo-realist way, darkly lit, with rapid cutting and a pounding track of Italian pop. As it progresses there are increasingly frequent flights of magic realism as we see Pio’s grandfather living the life of the Roma of his youth and visions of a spirit horse of long ago. “Once we travelled and were free,” the old man tells Pio, but now the purity and majesty of that life in harmony with the natural world have disappeared and left them shackled and clinging to the outskirts of society, dependent on petty crime.

It’s a dark and gripping coming-of-age movie, an insight into a hidden underclass, bursting with unstoppable energy. Pio is trying to grow up too fast and ultimately he has to make a moral choice about where his loyalty lies. Though he doesn’t realise it yet, it will determine the future direction of his life. The Ciambra is an amazing experience.

A Ciambra premiered at the 70th Cannes Film Festival and is released on 15 June 2018 in the UK.

Join the discussion