Il ladro di bambini

The Italian title of this lovely, rambling feature by Gianni Amelio (Open Doors) translates unidiomatically as “The Children Thief,” and is undoubtedly meant to remind us of the 1948 film The Bicycle Thief. The “thief” in question is actually a young carabiniere officer (Enrico Lo Verso) based in Milan who’s given the job of escorting an 11-year-old girl (Valentina Scalici) and her 10-year-old brother (Giuseppe Ieracitano) to a religious home after their mother is arrested for forcing the daughter into prostitution. After the home turns them away the officer has to bring them to a reform school in Sicily, but he winds up taking his time about it–stopping off at his family home en route and finding other distractions. The biggest box-office hit in Italy last year, this also won the grand jury prize at the Cannes film festival, but the nice thing about it is that it doesn’t shove its virtues in your face; it’s made up of small discoveries and natural performances that raise as many questions about the characters as they answer. Accompanying some of the showings of this feature is an Oscar-nominated short film, Swan Song, starring John Gielgud and Richard Briers, directed by Kenneth Branagh, and adapted by Hugh Cruttwell from a short play by Anton Chekhov. Biograph.

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