First Snowfall (La Prima Neve): Film Review

"First Snowfall"
 A low-impact p.c. family film set in the stunning Italian Alps.

Award-winning director Andrea Segre parallels the problems of an African man who has lost his wife and an Italian boy without a father.

Not just another immigrant story, Andrea Segre’s delicate First Snowfall transposes the discomfort of a young refugee from Togo to the eye-catching location of Italy’s high Alps. With contrived symmetry and too little drama, the story parallels the angst of the soul-shaken African protag who can’t bring up his infant daughter with that of a towheaded local boy who has lost his father. But the unusual setting adds interest to a sensitive, well-shot family film that just opened theatrically in Italy after its Venice Horizons premiere and should have small screen appeal. 

Segre is a documentary filmmaker who has gingerly moved into fiction, feeling his way carefully into the medium with the award-winning feature Li Shun and the Poet, the story of an illegal Chinese immigrant working in the Veneto region. In Snowfall  the focus shifts away from the legal difficulties of immigration to psychological ones, as sympathetically rendered characters work their way through their problems to reach the right life choices, which are obvious from the start.

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Dani (Jean-Christophe Folly) has arrived in Italy from Togo via war-torn Libya and somehow ended up in a pristine Alpine community in the far north founded, rather ironically, by German immigrants. There he works for a wise old woodsman (Peter Mitterrutzner) who lives with his daughter Elisa (an engaging Anita Caprioli) and her wayward 10-year-old son Michele (Matteo Marchel.) Unwilling to accept his father’s absence, the boy has begun skipping school and spending time in the woods.

Similarly, Dani’s distress over losing his wife gives him no peace.  He’s not even able to cuddle or care for his infant daughter, whose eyes remind him too much of her mother. While he awaits EU traveling papers, he ponders going to Paris without her.

Too neat a set-up to be convincing, Segre’s screenplay, co-written with Marco Pettenello, pairs the man and boy in various outdoor jobs that let them work out the chips on their shoulder. This is a case where the immigrant’s nearly total lack of conflict with his environment leads to a rather dull film. It's kept alive by a fine cast, who do the best they can with the sparse dramatic material and lines like, “Things that smell the same should stay together.”

As big Dani and little Michele tramp through the woods, the more experienced boy leading the awkwardly out-of-place man, there are some uneasy flashes on Huckleberry Finn and the runaway slave Jim, especially in a brief scene of no narrative significance in which Michele urges the fearful Dani to join him on his river raft. Huck could very well have been a model for young actor Matteo Marchel, who is a stand-out in the role of an angry child adept at emotional blackmail. Folly (35 rhums) is dignity personified.

Top cinematographer Luca Bigazzi creates a fable-like Rheingold landscape in the Trentino mountains that is a pleasure to look at. The musical comment by Piccola Bottega Baltazar is tuneful and appropriate.

Venue: DVD, Oct. 16, 2013.

Production companies: Jole Film in association with Rai Cinema

Cast: Jean-Christophe Folly, Matteo Marchel, Anita Caprioli, Peter Mitterrutzner, Giuseppe Battiston, Paolo Pierbon, Roberto Citran

Director:  Andrea Segre
Screenwriters: Marco Pettenello, Andrea Segre
Producers: Francesco Bonsembiante, Marco Paolini
Director of photography: Luca Bigazzi
Production designer: Leonardo Scarpa
Costumes:  Silvia Nebiolo
Editor: Sara Zavarise
Music: Piccola Bottega Baltazar
No rating, 103 minutes.