Along the Ridge



PALM SPRINGS -- Actor Kim Rossi Stuart's directorial debut is a terrifically acted but shapeless drama about two tweens and their not-ready-for-parenthood mother and father. The film's most refreshing and admirable aspect is its refusal to sentimentalize the notion of family.

But while "Along the Ridge" doesn't reach for easy resolutions, its soft, unsatisfying ending reflects the lack of a center, perhaps the function of being written by four people.

Rossi Stuart ("The Keys to the House"), who also stars, would be the chief theatrical draw for the film, whose festival dates have included the Festival de Cannes' Directors Fortnight and the recent Palm Springs fest.

Exploring the thornier aspects of a particular nuclear unit, this coming-of-age drama offers well-observed dynamics from the point of view of wise-beyond-his-years Tommaso (the impressively introspective Alessandro Morace). When his mother (an excellent Barbora Bobulova) returns to their cramped apartment after her most recent extended absence, Tommaso's older sister, Viola (Marta Nobili), welcomes her with open arms. But the wary boy watches from an emotional distance -- and sometimes from his secret place on the edge of the building's roof, where he stashes binoculars and a slingshot.

"She comes and goes," Tommaso explains to a friend, having already learned to be cautious in love. While his mother struggles against her fundamental incompatibility with domestic life and his tempestuous father (Rossi Stuart) struggles to make ends meet, Tommaso feels increasingly drawn into the warm, seemingly conflict-free orbit of a well-to-do upstairs neighbor.

Rossi Stuart delivers a complex, unapologetic portrait of a harried parent whose quicksilver temper infects all his relationships, both within the tight-knit family and in his work as a freelance cameraman. The script -- by the helmer, Linda Ferri, Francesco Giammusso and Federico Starnone -- often loses its focus in story strands that dilute rather than strengthen the story. But at its most affecting, the film is an incisive depiction of how messy grown-up emotions can blur the lines between parent and child.