Ten-year-old Filippo (Mattia Di Pierro) has been underground so long, he no longer opens his eyes. He can't. His already pin-size pupils shrink in pain from sunlight.
In fact, by the time village boy Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) finds Filippo in his underground prison — a pit under an abandoned house — Filippo mistakes him for an angel. Filippo, you see, thinks he's dead. Without Michele, he may be soon.
A chilling tale of rural horror, Italian director Gabriele Salvatores' “I'm Not Scared,” premiering in the Finger Lakes at the Smith Opera House on Feb. 24, pulls its audience into the exact moment when childhood innocence shatters.
The complicity of Michele's Sardinian village and family in such a dark crime confuses his loyalties, challenges his moral compass. But his family-installed compassion takes over when he recognizes the act as evil and brings Filippo out of his feral state of hopelessness. Michele (also 10 years old) becomes Filippo's foil — the child he could be were he not being held captive.
Kidnappings such as Filippo's, unfortunately, are not historically uncommon in Sardinia, an island west of the Italian mainland. One native politician called Sardinia “the Wild West” of Italy, lawless and unsafe, with 178 kidnappings from 1960 to 1992, according to a New York Times report.
In 1992, the island was shaken by the kidnapping of 8-year-old Farouk Kassam, son of an Emerald Coast hotel manager. When the $9 million ransom deadline was missed, the bandits sent the boy's left earlobe to his family, with a threat to dissect Kassam piece by piece if their terms were not met.
In “I'm Not Scared,” Filippo faces a similar fate, with his body parts becoming bargaining chips.
Farouk's story finished with an uplifting coda: Windows and piazzas all over Italy were decorated with signs that read “Free Farouk” until the boy was released under mysterious circumstances after a 177-day drama.
Salvatores, whose 1991 film “Mediterraneo” won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, follows themes similar to the Farouk cases, although his camera never leaves the golden fields and impoverished interior of the island. It's an inside job he wants to portray, capturing the taut emotional politics of a small community.
The Smith screens “I'm Not Scared'' (“Io non ho paura”) at 7 p.m. February 24, 25 and 26, at 2 p.m. Feb. 27, and at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 and March 1. Rated R for disturbing images and language, this film has a running time of one hour, 50 minutes. It is in Italian with subtitles. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. All seats are $3 on Thursday and $2 on Tuesday. Call 781-5483 or toll-free (866) 355-5483 for details or to reserve tickets.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.