It’s not surprising to find that kids in the Amato clan (ably portrayed here by a real-life family of Amatos) are eager — perhaps even desperate — to grow up, because they don’t have much of anything that could be called a childhood. Their play is the play of adults — smoking, drinking, boasting, and trash talk — and their schooling is in the care of the family. (As his Romani Grandpa declares, “It’s us against the world,” and maintaining that stance takes effort, especially once you stop roaming about.) Teenage Pio, for instance, makes sure no one catches them stealing electricity, and helps out chopping up the stolen cars brought in by his older brother. Nothing that requires the ability to read, and not nearly enough to calm his desire to get in on the real action. Pio wants to do well and he’s a careful observer, but inexperience loves to trip up ambition, and everything he tries turns out more complicated than he intends. (His first attempt at tagging along on a job lands both his father and brother in jail, and gets the family fined for the electrical theft.) Still, he presses on — because what else can he do, really? — and eventually, he learns what it means to be a man in his world. And also what Grandpa was talking about. Writer-director Jonas Carpignano displays a fine feeling for the simple joys and blunt sorrows of life at the margins, and a great regard for his compelling young star. If the exercise of those virtues results in a few too many close ups and an overindulgence in shadows and obscurity, well… In Italian with English subtitles. (2017) — Matthew Lickona
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