La Pivellina -- Film Review



CANNES -- "La Pivellina" by first-time feature directors Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel once more proves that good films can be made on near-zero budgets with the simplest of plots. Technically stripped to the essence, it is shot on film and offers perfectly minimalistic dialogue. It is a festival gem, hindered only by the filmmakers' predilection for long shots of characters walking to and from places of action.

Tighter editing and a consequently slightly faster tempo could draw wider audiences beyond arthouse diehards to this sweet story that features a most impressive performance by a small child.

Fifty-something Patrizia (Patrizia Girardi) works in the circus and lives in a trailer park on the outskirts of Rome. One day while looking for her escaped dog, she comes across a "pivellina" ("small girl" in Rome slang) abandoned on a swing, with a note from her mother saying she will return for her in a few days.

Against the wishes of her husband Walter (Walter Saabel), Patrizia takes in the two-year-old Asia (Asia Crippa), who adapts surprisingly quickly and naturally to her new surroundings. She also enlists the adolescent Tairo (Tairo Cairoli) to make diaper runs and play babysitter.

Soon, they are all falling in love with Asia, whose riveting presence melts not only the characters' but viewers' hearts as well. The directors' handling of their growing attachment to the girl, and hers to them, is as delicate as it is precise, and never sentimentally untrue.

Asia is the brightest star of a squalid, tough environment that is a glimpse of a Rome rarely seen in contemporary cinema. In the film, the encampment in which the characters live has just lost its electricity, which the government refuses to turn back on.

Like the characters'/actors' names, it is easy to believe that this is not a fictional plot point but the reality of an Italy far from la dolce vita, which Italians themselves would rather ignore.

Yet this is not a political film. It is simply a tale of several people who already like one another slowly becoming even closer as the result of a winsome intruder in their lives, with whom they do not want to part. Too old to have or adopt children, Patrizia is revitalized in her role as mother.

So is Tairo, not nearly as tough as he pretends to be, as the older brother who will choose babysitting Asia over his girlfriend. And as a few days with the girl turn into weeks and weeks, not even Walter can report her to the authorities as initially planned.

How the directors got such a natural performance out of the minuscule Crippa is a mystery. She is a joy, strong-willed, intelligent and impossible not to adore. One gets the impression that the film was created entirely around her.

Venue: Cannes
Production company: Vento Film
Cast: Patrizia Gerardi, Walter Saabel, Tairo Caroli, Asia Crippa
Directors/Producers: Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel
Screenwriter, editor: Tizza Covi
Director of photography/Production designer: Rainer Frimmel
Sales: Films Distribution
No rating, 100 minutes