The Ciambra is a darkly lit, sketchy story about a small Romani community in Calabria, Italy. With real people acting out their real lives, there is somewhat of a documentary feel to this feature which highlights the outsider tensions in Italy. The main character Pio Amato is desperate to grow up fast, following his brother, Cosimo, around, wanting to fill his shoes. But when he feels he has to, after his brother and dad are arrested one evening, there are many questions that arise about the factions that exist and where his identity lies.

At the tender age of fourteen, he already drinks, smokes and slides between the region’s factions ( the local Italians, the African refugees and his fellow Romani), highlighting the tensions that exist from the way Roma characters are treated by the Italians and then the way the Africans are then considered by the Romanis. Learning the necessary skills for life on the streets, Pio sets out to prove he’s ready to step into his big brother’s shoes but soon finds himself faced with a difficult decision which tests his loyalties, heightening the character development in this film.

The cinematography is evocative with the lighting mystical and dark, particularly with the establishing shots, barely introduced to an elder man, and the camera work is a little sketchy and hand-held, connotating life in the streets in this area, as the camera was kept close to the bodies hoisted on scooters, moving as scenes actually became dangerous in the community. It’s certainly a coming of age film but without the romantic Hollywood elements related to that, stripped of the sun and the hazy grade, this is more gritty and real-life, and for that more interesting watching.

The fact that he seems to slide between factions and yet, struggle to travel on a train is somewhat of a metaphor for the restrictions on the freedom of travel and yet also expands on the complexity of the character of Pio. Italian-American director Jonas Carpignano’s second feature creates fictional cinema from this impoverished life on the cusp of Gioia Tauro, a coastal town in southern Italy, highlighting the racial tensions whilst Pio is making a quick buck by selling electronic goods to the Ghanaian immigrants squatting in a town nearby. My only criticism is that it is perhaps a little too lengthy and could have been edited to hold attention as mine waivered at parts where I felt it was drawing out but then it is depicting more of real life, than a stylised, fast-paced, action-packed adventure. A gritty insight into the racial tensions in this area of Italy, it’s pensive filmmaking hitting it all home.