On a gently rolling Italian countryside covered with amber waves of grain, a little girl loses her eyeglasses on the same day her brother loses his innocence.
There are six of them running and playing that afternoon, and all are at the mercy of their bullying ringleader, who tries to make the chubby girl pull down her pants. But Michele is a good boy, and he looks after his petulant little sister, who keeps breaking her glasses. He offers to hold them, and he's halfway home when he realizes they've fallen out of his pocket.
He returns to find the glasses easily enough. Then, he discovers the enigma of Filippo: hungry, bloody, gaunt, pale and chained by his ankle down in a camouflaged hole near a shed where the kids hang out. Michele returns the next day, and the next, feeding the shaggy towhead and befriending him. Filippo has gone slightly feral -- "I'm dead!" he insists, in his ghostlike voice -- so Michele can't really discern his true story. And when Michele learns the truth not long afterwards, he doesn't know what it means.
Gabriele Salvatores' I'm Not Scared feels like it takes place in a child's imagination and also in the real world of the desperate adults he's just beginning to comprehend. The movie's ethereal ending does little to dispel the persistent possibility that Michele is spinning a lurid fairy tale, although by then it doesn't matter: I'm Not Scared, which is based on a novel by NiccolÃ² Ammaniti, is handsomely made and very disquieting in what it says about the death of innocence.
At night under his covers, Michele makes up yarns to entertain his little sister. After discovering Filippo, he writes a story based upon their friendship: Twins are born -- one brunet, one blond -- and the blond grows up to be wild and crazy. It's all he can do to make Filippo fit the world he knows, especially when some demimonde friends of his father arrive for a visit, and he begins to realize that the adults in his isolated southern Italian hamlet know something about the captive boy.
Soaked in sunlight, and bustling with fauna whose natural activity comments upon the adulterated humanity around it, Michele's world at first feels almost pre-modern, although his community has television, helicopters and Kit-Kat bars. These contemporary elements give I'm Not Scared even more of a fabled sensation, and its sinister duality permeates its taut narrative. When Michele's little sister sees an imaginary dog, you know she still lives in a safer world than her brother has come to inhabit. And when she drowns her Barbie doll, you sense her own rite of passage isn't far away. In Italian, with subtitles. Manor