A Worthwhile, Semi-Autobiographical Exploration of Father-Son Relationships
“Who are you son to?”
That’s the question at the heart of director Claudio Noce’s semi-autobiographical Padrenostro. It’s an exploration of a father-son relationship, ﬁltered through a coming of age story, with hints of thriller, mystery, family drama, and an analysis of personal history. It’s a question asked directly and indirectly to kids, but more importantly it’s one a son asks himself after his world becomes disoriented following a traumatic incident.
We’re in the world of Valerio (Mattia Garaci) in 1970s Rome. He’s a lonely boy with an active imagination. The centre of Valerio’s world is his father Alfonso (Pierfrancesco Favino), a presence even when absent. The boy’s paternal idolisation is shown by who his focus is the ﬁrst time he picks up a camera. But one morning his innocence and certainty about his father is shattered by the bullets that rip through the street and into his father.
Valerio’s world is changed after he locks eyes with a shooter dying in the street, and we search for explanations with him. What happened to his father? Where is he? How is he? Who is he really? His mother Barbara (Barbara Ronchi) ﬁghts to keep the truth from him, to keep him safe and innocent in the apartment that looks down on the city, or in the school run by the church. But in those places he has ﬂashbacks to the shooting, or is harassed by kids who challenge the nuns’ notions of his dad as a hero.
Then he meets teenage, Dickensian-esque street urchin Christian (Francesco Gheghi). While Alfonso is away he oﬀers a pseudo father ﬁgure, a new source of knowledge, and an opportunity to escape the stress, the silence, and the pervasive threat of more violence around his family. When they move south to Calabria for safety, Christian somehow appears at the family home and becomes an important source of both tension and connection in the relationship between Valerio and Alfonso.
The direction of Noce and photography of Michele D’Attanasio highlights the dual narrative perspectives of the ﬁlm: from top-down, bird’s eye views, to an almost ﬁrst-person perspective that centres the experience of Valerio in the moment. The former is like an omnipotent overseer (reﬂective of the heavenly connotations of the titular ‘Our Father’) or a puppeteer pulling the strings of the story. Repeated motifs and shots express Noce trying to piece together and sort through the mosaic of his history from real and imagined memories. His understanding of the present with his feelings from the past.
The latter view has us follow Valerio in his ignorance and search for knowledge. In the ﬁrst half of the ﬁlm the shallow depth of ﬁeld used suggests his narrow world view, until it’s challenged – cinematically and mentally – by the appearance of Christian and the change of scene to the south. Along with the production and sound design (the meticulously styled apartment, the sun-blistered Calabrian countryside, the cicadas calling to summer), the drifting, child-height camera movement, the close-up shots of hands and piercing eyes (very reminiscent of Malick, a model of some of cinema’s most tactile cinematography) eﬀectively sucks you into Valerio’s world.
The ﬁlm is anchored and elevated by the performance of Garaci, who eﬀectively captures the journey of Valerio as both a child and a son. It’s an impressive feat by a young actor in only his second feature, and one in which he appears in almost every scene. He’s ably supported by Favino, a performance of minimalism and control.
As is understandable in such a personal ﬁlm (it’s based on his own father’s attempted assassination during Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’), Noce is indulgent in his pacing. This works for much of the ﬁlm, but it could easily stand to lose close to twenty or thirty minutes, as the second half has a feeling of drag. This time could be found in removing some elements that distract from the ﬁlm’s heart, or are just superﬂuous – from questions about Christian’s materiality to some unnecessary bookending.
[This post first appeared on The Curb]