English Title: Along the Ridge
Original Title: Anche libero va bene
Country of Origin: Italy
Studio: Palomar/Rai Cinema
Director: Kim Rossi Stuart
Producer(s): Andrea Costantini, Carlo Degli Esposti, Giorgio Magliulo
Screenplay: Federico Starnone, Linda Ferri, Francesco Giammusso, Kim Rossi Stuart
Cinematographer: Stefano Falivene
Art Director: Stefano Giambanco
Editor: Marco Spoletini
Runtime: 108 minutes
Starring/Cast: Barbora Bobulova, Kim Rossi Stuart, Alessandro Morace, Marta Nobili
Eleven-year-old Tommi lives in an apartment in Rome with his slightly older sister, Viola and their father, Renato. With his father often busy or away on freelance work, Tommi is forced to assume an early independence from his family, taking care of himself and relying on his wits (and a stash of saved-up pocket money) for survival. When his absent mother Stefania returns home and attempts to re-establish a relationship with the children she has more than once abandoned, Tommi is reluctant to forgive her at first. He finally gives her his trust, but it is not long before she leaves again, sending him only a note of explanation. The violent scenes between his parents when his mother first appears at their home, and his father’s despair when she leaves, see Tommi abandon his aims to become a champion swimmer and spend an increasing amount of time away from home. Thrown out of the house after several furious rows with his increasingly short-tempered father, Tommi spends a growing amount of time with a new friend and his wealthy family in a neighbouring flat. Eventually, he is forced to choose whether to remain in the world of comfort that his substitute family offers or return to his desolate father’s side.
Realism and melodrama come together in Kim Rossi Stuart’s directing debut Anche libero va bene. The film shares several recurrent themes with other Italian boyhood films of the 1990s and 2000s; from reflections upon new family structures, to dangers within the home, and the increasing role of boys as carers. Like Gabriele Salvatore’s Io non ho paura/I’m Not Afraid (2003) and Antonio Capuano’s La guerra di Mario/Mario’s War (2005), the narrative in Rossi Stuart’s fable of boyhood is played out from the perspective of the son, with the camera often appropriating his vantage point. Anche libero va bene explores the way in which the universal transition from childhood to adulthood brings with it anxieties and difficulties specific to the 21st century. Masculine youth is portrayed as prematurely cut short as the young protagonist is propelled into places and positions before he is ready. Selected by Rossi Stuart from amongst hundreds of ordinary school children he auditioned across Italy, Morace as Tommi gives a moving and convincing performance as a quiet, sensitive witness to his parents’ volatile relationship and reluctant participant in the domestic drama that ensues.
Tommi’s journeys through a series of alienating urban locations outside the domestic space capture the uncertainty and anxiety he experiences at the ongoing unravelling, disintegration and reforming of the family structure. He takes refuge from the stresses of home life by sneaking away to a hideaway on the roof of the apartment block, a private place for transcendent play where he perches amongst the aerials and spies on the world below through a pair of binoculars. The film employs metaphors common to coming-of-age narratives, using physical boundaries to symbolize the threshold between childhood and adulthood. Between the past of childhood and the future of adolescence and adulthood, Tommi’s rooftop exists as a kind of precarious present, whilst the traumas associated with this transition are symbolized by his tendency to jump from ledge to ledge, making dangerous leaps back and forth across the threshold of the home.
In the spirit of Italian neorealist films such as Vittorio De Sica’s classics, I bambini ci guardano/The Children Are Watching Us (1944) and Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves (1948), Rossi Stuart’s Anche libero va bene examines the cataclysmic consequences of adult transgression on an innocent child. Stefania’s repeated abandonment of her family, purportedly in order to seek her own sexual fulfilment, is shown to have traumatic repercussions on both her young children. When she unexpectedly returns home near the beginning of the film, the errant mother is reunited with her children on the staircase of the apartment block. The moment is mirrored in a dramatic and symbolic shadow on the wall in an ironic reference to melodrama’s frequent recourse to the portrait of the reunited family. However, the tropes of the traditional melodramatic reunion are inverted here; the stairs lie outside the domestic space, and the image of the newly united family is revealed as no more than a fleeting illusion.
The film flouts our expectations of the conventional family dynamic by visually isolating the suffering characters from one another through bars on elevator shafts, window frames and rooftops that divide the onscreen space and re-imagine melodrama’s portrait of the reunited family without the maternal figure. Despite the emotional strain caused by his mother’s departure, Tommi initially appears to be able to retain some hold on the childhood world of play that is increasingly absent from his own home through his friendship with his rich friend Antonio. However, in a pivotal moment in the film, the young boy becomes aware of the extent of his father’s vulnerability and, in a nod to Italian cinematic tradition, in the end it is the son who must provide emotional and moral support to the father.