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After crossing over from documentary into features with 2012’s modest festival hit The Interval, director Leonardo Di Costanzo continues his gritty social-realist exploration of organized crime and its effect on the fabric of life in contemporary Naples in The Intruder. A bare-bones production anchored by a performance of grave sobriety from Raffaella Giordano, who comes from the world of dance, the drama played well in the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes and should continue to find admiring audiences along the festival trail.
Giordano plays Giovanna, a 60-year-old social worker who, together with her late husband, established a safe-haven community center for disadvantaged children in a crime-infested quarter of Naples, ruled by local mob syndicate the Camorra. The center, known as La Masseria, is a place for arts and crafts, gardening, colorful murals and elaborate sculpture projects including a giant low-tech robot called Mr. Jones, made of old bicycle parts. It’s an oasis of creativity and carefree play amid brutalist surroundings, where safety concerns are a constant for many low-income families.
The ugly reality of the outside world enters La Masseria when it emerges that Giovanna has unwittingly provided temporary housing for the wife and children of a Camorra lieutenant. It soon turns out they’ve been hiding him on the premises since he bungled a targeted hit by killing the wrong man. That secret is exposed when cops close in and arrest the husband, leaving Giovanna in an awkward position.
The murder victim was an honest construction worker unconnected to the crime world. Giovanna’s visit to the man’s widow and family to explain her mistake is one of the film’s stronger scenes, establishing the moral conflict that keeps festering as the plot unfolds.
Cops and colleagues tell Giovanna she was incautious not to question Maria (Valentina Vannino) more closely before agreeing to provide a roof for the young mother, her infant child and preteen daughter Rita (Martina Abbate). Even the combative social worker freely admits she was deceived. But she refuses to eject the family, arguing that they should not be judged by the same standards as the husband and father whose imprisonment leaves them with no visible means of support. Her chief concerns seems to be Rita, whom she sees as no less deserving of protection than the other children under her supervision.
Opposition within the community is calm but firm, with some parents scarred by Camorra violence threatening to remove their children from La Masseria if Maria stays. While Rita is a tough kid, she feels ashamed to return to school after her father’s arrest, and her defensiveness causes initial friction with other children at the center. But the young are generally more accepting than the adults, who have seen too much bad history to forget.
Hiding away indoors as much as possible, thorny Maria does nothing to ingratiate herself despite Giovanna’s wary attempts to reach out. The occasional visits Maria receives from a pair of other Camorra wives only add to the climate of distrust, as does the frequent presence of cops. When school officials say they will no longer participate in the Masseria program, the kids are kept away and a long-planned party is canceled, it appears Giovanna will be forced to compromise her belief in compassion for all. But the decision is taken out of her hands.
That element somewhat undercuts the drama that’s been building, and there’s a slight shortage of urgency despite the seriousness of the stakes. But Di Costanzo and co-writers Maurizio Braucci and Bruno Oliviero depict the milieu and its conflicts with persuasive sincerity, sketching in details that show the extent to which crime has poisoned the air. One moving subplot involves young Ernestina (Alessandra Esposito), whose grandmother informs Giovanna that the child has been mute since witnessing her father get beaten to a pulp for refusing to hide a stash of Camorra weapons. Elsewhere, the kids’ familiarity with violent crime is illustrated when a group of boys show Rita a severed hand tossed in the bushes.
Technically, the small-scale film is undistinguished, with shaky camerawork and a dull, often underlit look. The effectiveness of the mainly nonprofessional cast also varies. But the unyielding integrity of Giordano’s performance keeps you watching as Giovanna sees first-hand the limits of tolerance in a community perhaps strained beyond repair. Despite that, a final celebratory scene shows the resilience of kids able to separate themselves from their surroundings, even if Giovanna inevitably continues to dwell on the child left behind.
Production companies: Tempesta, Carlo Cresto-Dina, RAI Cinema, in association with Amka Films Productions, Capricci
Cast: Raffaella Giordano, Valentina Vannino, Martina Abbate, Anna Patierno, Marcello Fonte, Gianni Vastarella, Flavio Rizzo, Maddalena Stornaiuolo, Riccardo Veno, Alessandra Esposito
Director: Leonardo Di Costanzo
Screenwriter: Leonardo Di Costanzo, Maurizio Braucci, Bruno Oliviero
Producer: Carlo Cresto-Dina
Director of photography: Helen Louvart
Production designer: Luca Servino
Costume designer: Loredana Buscemi
Music: Marco Cappelli, Adam Rudolph
Editor: Carlotta Cristiani
Casting: Alessandra Cutolo
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)
Sales: The Match Factory
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