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September 17, 2007 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

The Italian

Child actors are a bit hit and miss for me; I tend to cringe a bit when I think of the cheesiness of Haley Joel Osment and Macaulay Culkin (although I will admit that Home Alone 2 is still one of my favourite movies, especially the bit where Marv gets electrocuted and you see his skeleton). Even the Von Trapps rub me up the wrong way occasionally, and the Sound of Music is one of my favourite films. However, Kolya Spiridonov’s performance in The Italian is something else indeed.

Six year old Vanya (Spiridonov) is one of many parentless children at a run down Russian orphanage. He becomes the envy of his peers when an Italian couple visit the orphanage and decide to adopt him, and he is dubbed “the Italian”. Shortly afterward, a mother of another child who has just been adopted (read: sold by the gigantic leopard-print-clad Madam) turns up to claim her son, prompting Vanya to fear that his mother might one day come looking for him. He decides to seek her out for himself, and plans his escape from the orphanage.

Vanya is eminently likeable and resourceful in the first two thirds of the film, but it is not until the final scenes that we see that this kid has grit to burn.

The film is also a very clever one; there are a few comic and ironic touches which elevate it beyond a mere depiction. It unfolds against a background of starkness and poverty; any great strides Russia’s capitalist economy has made are indiscernible in Vanya’s world. The acting is very effective, especially that of Spiridonov, who carries the film on his four-foot high shoulders and manages to articulate something beyond what most six year olds would even understand. The Italian is one of the best films I’ve seen all year, so if you missed it at the Film Festival, here’s your chance to see it.



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  1. Dave Elborn says:

    I have come to the conclusion that going to the movies is an interesting overall experience.In this particular occasion it started when I left my inner city apartment running late because I lost track of time as I was engrossed in a very good book I am reading at the moment.when I was half way down in the lift I realised I had forgotten my wallet_less speed more haste.Strutting down the wellington streets at a brisk pace I passed 2 people I know “sorry running late cant stop nice to see you” I cried out as I continued my strutting in a very determined manner.Arrived at the theatre with about 30 sec to spare.I congratulated myself on my excellant time management skills.
    I always find the first 20 to 30 minutes of a movie a bit slow mainly because my head space is elsewhere and my brain is racing.This movie was no exception but after this period passed I started to get into the plot and relaxed and chilled out _metamorphesis completed.After the movie ended going back onto the streets of Wellington after spending 2 hours in a russian town felt strange almost surreal. I know this first part of the movie is an important part of the structure of the film to set the scene and to introduce the charactors to the audience but it is the bit I least like.
    To the movie itself I thought the acting was very good and the story line poignant.It evoked 3 emotional thoughts first,the comparsions between my own boyhood and that of Vanyas and what I would have if I had found myself in his shoes second, a paternal feeling towards Vanya and at times I felt like rushing up to the screen to help him out and protect him especially when he was bullied and robbed.Kick sand in their faces “way to go Vanya”and third my recent visit to Russia such an interesting place to visit.Surprise surprise the Russian people are not the evil commie barstards the politcians lead us to believe during the cold war.
    I thought the background music was subtle and cleverly understated.It consisted of a pianist playing 3 or 4 tuneful notes one after the other in a high treble clef when things happening on screen were good and a series of chords slightly off key again upper treble clef when things on screen were bad.No sign of the 40 piece orchestra you sometimes encounter on a Hollywood blockbuster which can be an annoying distraction.
    If I was a boring pedantic fart of a film critic I would say there were 2 occasions the story line was streched to the limits of credibility and cimematic licence [once when the hooker let Vanya go on the train by himself and again when the “madams” partner having chased Vanya with alacrity for days let him go when he finally cought him].However because I am not a boring fart I wont mention it.
    To me the movies piece de resistance was the very final scene when Vanya finally saw his mother[it didnt matter that we didnt].They say a picture tells a thousand words and the look on his angelic face ,beautifully captured on camera was of Mona Lisa preportions.
    Rating ****

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