‘Pure Hearts’ (‘Cuori Puri’): Film Review | Cannes 2017

Cuori Puri 3 - H 2017
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Love and lust on the streets of Rome.

Roberto De Paolis makes his feature debut with the story of a teenage girl about to take a vow of chastity and the boy who catches her eye.

A 17-year-old girl whose devout mother wants her to swear off sex before marriage meets a handsome stranger in Pure Hearts (Cuori Puri), the debut feature from Italian filmmaker Roberto De Paolis. Mining tensions as varied as the rise of evangelical fervor in economically depressed modern Italy and the country's relationship to its itinerant gypsy population, this delicately handled romance never comes off as didactic, chiefly by keeping its focus firmly on its two appealing leads, played by newcomers Selene Caramazza and Simone Liberati. Festival play should be long after the film's Directors' Fortnight premiere, though its modest scale and the familiarity of its central dynamic will likely confine its prospects to that circuit outside its home territory.

Working security at a mall, 20-something Stefano (Liberati) meets the doe-like Agnese (Caramazza) when she steals a phone and he's forced to chase her down on the street. The girl's mother, Marta (Sacred Heart's Barbora Bobulova, dialing down the glamour), has confiscated Agnese's own phone after discovering "filthy" messages from a boy. The decent Stefano lets her go and is promptly fired. He winds up babysitting a parking lot next door to a local encampment of gypsies, by whom he is constantly provoked. He meets Agnese again when she visits the camp bearing toys and old clothes, and her charity is puzzling to the rough-and-ready young man, whose meager income is used to support his parents after they're evicted from their apartment.

The burgeoning romance is deftly handled by De Paolis, and in Liberati he's found a charismatic anchor, one able to thread a convincing tenderness into a portrait of a kind man with ironclad prejudices. Stefano is trying to leave a life of petty crime behind, but he's harassed at work by his "gippo" neighbors, who endanger his continued employment by tearing down the parking lot's fence and caving in windshields.

The director and co-writers Luca Infascelli, Carlo Salsa and Greta Scicchitano, critique assumptions about class — the cosseted Agnese isn't above shoplifting, while Stefano's parents are forced to move into a trailer identical to those inhabited by the Roma he so despises — as well as religion. Characters who have been caricatures elsewhere, like the pious, repressive mother, are never thrown under the bus here. Marta apologizes to Agnese after asking a doctor to check that her chastity is intact, and she is clearly burdened by her past, which is never laid out but feeds her paranoia.

Nicely nuanced, too, is the portrait of Agnese's religious instructor, Don Luca (an avuncular Stefano Fresi), who quotes the Sermon on the Mount: "Happy are those who have a pure heart, for they will see God." The film's sympathies — that, of course, somebody sexually active before marriage can also be 'pure' — are clear, but its thesis is only strengthened by its refusal to paint the religious who think otherwise with broad brushstrokes.

De Paolis and cinematographer Claudio Cofrancesco (a camera operator on 2015's Mia Madre, now lensing features) favor a series of handheld mid-shots, contrasting the comfortable pastel world of Agnese's church group with the more derelict byways of Rome occupied by Stefano and his friends, including drug dealer Lele (Edoardo Pesce). The camera is as loose-limbed as the titular leads of Pure Hearts, which ends as it began — with a foot chase. This one sees Stefano finally abandoning bigotry and the two lovers locked in each other's arms, declaring their relationship to both their worlds in a climax that's both unexpected and intuitively satisfying.

Sales: The Match Factory

Production companies: Young Films Productions, Meproducodasolo, RAI Cinema

Cast: Selene Caramazza, Simone Liberati, Barbara Bobulova, Stefano Fresi, Edoardo Pesce, Isabella Della Monache, Federico Pacifici, Antonella Attili

Director: Roberto De Paolis

Screenwriters: Roberto De Paolis, Luca Infascelli, Carlo Salsa, Greta Scicchitano

Producers: Carla Altieri, Roberto De Paolis, Alfredo Covelli

Director of photography: Claudio Cofrancesco

Art director: Rachele Meliado

Costume designer: Loredana Buscemi

Editor: Paola Freddi

Composer: Emanuele de Raymondi

114 minutes