Clown's tale puts Italy in focus

Pontecorvo walks 'tightrope' with painful story

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DUBAI -- "Pa Ra Da," which opened the Italian cinema "focus" at the Dubai International Film Festival on Sunday, is based on true events that could have happened anywhere children live on the street.

But first-time director Carlo Pontecorvo -- son of "The Battle of Algiers" director Gillo Pontecorvo -- stumbled upon a newspaper story from Bucharest, Romania, where in 1993 a French-Algerian clown began a 16-year mission of teaching kids to lift themselves from poverty with circus skills.

Pontecorvo said that he struggled to translate onto film the painful stories of the kids, hoping always to avoid melodrama in the film, which was shot in Romanian. "I felt like I was on a tightrope without a net under me," he said.

After premiering at the Venice Film Festival, the 2.4 million euro ($3.2 million) "Pa Ra Da" has done "decent" at the Italian boxoffice since its September release, according to producer Marco Pugili. He said that he hopes German sales company Beta Cinema soon will seal deals for distribution in Romania and France.

Miloud Oukili, 36, the real-life clown played in the film by actor Jalil Lespert, said that the real heroes of the story are the children who allowed him to teach them his circus skills and take them on tour across Europe.

Some of his first students were on hand in Dubai to promote the Parada Italia Foundation, established in 1996 to help poor children everywhere.

There still are 1,000 homeless children in Bucharest and 6,000 unaccompanied minors living across Italy, 37.5% of whom come from Romania, said Oukili, who said he hopes the film will help shed further light on their troubles.

"I am speechless in thanking Marco and his father for embarking on this journey with me," Oukili said in French through an interpreter.

DIFF's "In Focus -- Italy" section also includes "Gomorra," director Matteo Garrone's look at the Napolitan mafia; "The Rest of the Night" by Francesco Munzi, about an Italian family's conflict over a missing piece of jewelry; Gianni Di Gregorio's "Pranzo Di Ferragosto," about a middle-aged drunk trying to survive life with his demanding elderly mother; and "Il Divo," Paolo Sorrentino's movie about notorious politician Giulio Andreotti.