'Alone with Her Dreams' ('Picciridda'): Film Review

Film Movement
An accessible import built around its child star's very strong acting debut.

Paolo Licata's feature debut adapts an Italian coming-of-age novel by Catena Fiorello.

A golden-hued, lightly sentimental period picture following an adolescent girl around a seaside Sicilian village, Paolo Licata's Alone with Her Dreams would have fit nicely into that batch of European imports that, around the start of the 90s, Miramax effectively sold to American viewers who might otherwise have steered clear of subtitled fare.

Telling the story of a girl whose parents must leave her behind while seeking work in France, the story (from a novel by Catena Fiorello) makes a fine showcase for young thesp Marta Castiglia, a natural with intelligent eyes and no interest in child-actor pandering. Though the film is ultimately just as invested in the girl's sour grandmother, whose secrets help make sense of a hard left turn the story takes near its end, Alone (which marks both the director's feature debut and Castiglia's) makes the most of a fraught moment in its protagonist's life that will be accessible to any viewer who's been an out-of-place teen, whether quasi-orphaned or not.

Castiglia plays Lucia, who is being abandoned by her parents as the film opens. They won't be able to care for her while seeking the jobs they desperately need, Lucia is told — though the message might be easier to accept if Mom and Dad weren't taking Lucia's brother on the trip. We'll be home for Christmas, they promise.

The girl is alone now with her grandmother Maria (Lucia Sardo), whose grip is strong and whose sympathy is hard to come by. Some locals call her "Donna" Maria, out of respect for her gifts in preparing the dead for burial. Others know her as "The General," referring to a bossy humorlessness that is especially evident in chance encounters with the sister (Pina, played by sad-eyed Ileana Rigano) she hasn't spoken to in decades. Lucia is forbidden from speaking to Pina, her daughter Rosamaria (Katia Greco) or her husband Saro (Claudio Collovà). But in this small town, she can hardly manage not to cross paths with them — as when she stumbles into a cave on the beach where Rosamaria is having sex with a married man.

Maria's bitter grudges will remain a mystery for most of the film. Meanwhile, Lucia bides her time until Christmas at school, where a new friendship with Rita (Anna Di Chiara) lends some emotional normalcy to her life. Licata soaks up local color in a town that's not yet up to speed with the late-60s outside world, and scenes with the two girls suggest an idyllic bond that might almost push the loss of her family out of Lucia's mind. But moving on is built into this scenario, more even than in most other coming-of-age tales, and Alone reaches a bittersweet moment earlier than expected.

That's partly because it's plotting a final act to jolt us out of sun-dappled nostalgia. Lucia encounters some of the violence that can accompany small-town moral conservatism, and once they start, the secrets tumble forth. (Even if some don't reach our heroine until a coda in which she's a grown woman.) One suspects Fiorello's novel might've handled some exposition with a bit more finesse, but the screenplay (penned by the novelist and the director) fits flash-forwards and flashbacks together in a conventional, satisfying way, finally giving Maria her due.

"If I sometimes get angry," the old woman admits at one point, "it's because the world is evil." Alone with Her Dreams is hardly a stark meditation on the world's darkness, and in fact, its horrific elements may look to some like easy ways of reconciling family members who have a hard time acknowledging their kinship. But the picture demonstrates a respect for women, young and old, who navigate the world without relying on men, and sometimes in defiance of their control. If its rich scenery and on-the-nose score suggest a certain kind of middlebrow-arthouse product, the sensitively drawn relationships on the margins of its main plot evince something a bit deeper, and not at all unwelcome.

Production companies: Moonlight Pictures, Panoramic Film, Alba Produzioni
Distributor: Film Movement
Cast: Marta Castiglia, Lucia Sardo, Ileana Rigano, Katia Greco, Claudio Collovà, Loredana Marino, Tania Bambaci, Federica Sarno, Anna Di Chiara
Director: Paolo Licata
Screenwriters: Paolo Licata, Catena Fiorello
Producers: Frederic Ollier, Sandro Frezza, Xavier Delmas
Executive producers:
Director of photography: Lorenzo Adorisio
Production designer: Paolo Previti
Costume designer: Paola Nazzaro
Editor: Maurizio Baglivo
Composer: Pericle Odierna

In Italian
99 minutes