Some kids grow up faster than others. Especially when they have no choice. The scrappers in this Martin Scorsese-produced picture, A Ciambra, about a Romani community are not averse to the occasional cigarette or plastic cup of wine. Though most films about Roma people tend to focus on travelers, the Amato family of Calabria (played by a real-life family) is pretty settled. Fourteen-year-old Pio (Pio Amato, a natural performer with a face Robert Bresson would love) is a wiry character who helps his older brother, Cosimo (Damiano Amato), to move stolen cars. He may be bad, but being bad is all he knows. He's also bright and resourceful.

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When the cops haul his brother and father away, Pio becomes the sole breadwinner, since able-bodied men are the income-providers in this patriarchal society. Though his family dismisses their African neighbors as drunks, the Amatos like the grape just fine and don't think of themselves as Italian. Rather than endorsing their views, director Jonas Carpignano lets their hypocrisy speak for itself (his first feature, Mediterranea, revolved around African migrants). Pio breaks from the pack, as it were, when he joins forces with Ayiva (Mediterranea's excellent Koudous Seihon), a father trying to get home to Burkina Faso.

When things get really rough, though, Pio has to choose between Cosimo and Ayiva. If the ending, which recalls Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardennes' wrenching La Promesse, is overly schematic, Carpignano's sympathetic lead imbues the scenario with genuine intrigue.


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