A feel-good story about a father training his son to win a Judo championship, Scampia’s Gold buys into a lot of tough issues but fails to tackle them successfully. Barely managing to rise above its television-movie origins, the film has little to offer that audiences haven’t seen before.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Marco Pontecorvo
Screenplay: Pietro Calderoni, Beppe Fiorello, Gabriella Giacometti, Paolo Logli, Alessandro Pondi, Gaetano Savatteri.
Runtime: 100 minutes.
Cast: Beppe Fiorello, Gianluca Di Gennaro, Anna Foglietta, Teresa Capuano.
Plot: Scampia is one of the most downtrodden suburbs of Naples, rife with crime and unemployment. Local worker and community role model Enzo tries hard to do his bit; running a Judo workshop that keeps local kids off the streets and interested in something other than a life of crime. But this defiance is not taken well by local mob bosses, and Enzo and his students find themselves targets of the local Camorra.
Festival Goers? Miss it.
Viewed as part of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.
Review: As the endless writing credits attest, Scampia’s Gold (L’oro di Scampìa) is a troubled film. To even call it a film is to accord it a distinction above its station; as it started life as a made-for-television movie and has been included in this year’s Lavazza Italian Film Festival line-up; yet another very ordinary film padding out the selections, in what can only be put down as a cash grab on behalf of the cinemas participating. It’s a feel-good tale, and passable at that, but certainly not worth a trip to the cinema to see. That’s doubly disappointing, as the film presents some interesting and tough issues that it ultimately doesn’t have the heart to tackle on a meaningful level.
Supposedly inspired by a true story – that is, Giuseppe Maddaloni’s Judo championship win at the 2000 Sydney Olympics – the film follows local nurse Enzo, as he runs a Judo dojo and attempts to keep local kids focused, off the streets, and out of criminal activities with his teaching of the ‘gentle way.’ This attracts the attentions of a local mob boss, who does everything within his power to stop Enzo – including shooting one of his students, and setting the building on fire. But Enzo is defiant, taking his son and other talented students to the Italian Judo championships and eventually to the Olympics. A square jawed, fatherly type Enzo delivers advice such as ‘wait for the other guy to slip up then use it to your advantage’ and ‘how can you run away from a place like this without trying to fight and change it?’ Mixed into this narrative is the story of a 15-year-old prostitute, who is protected by a local cop and delivered into Enzo’s care; as well as a young, blind student who falls in love with her. The usual beats are hit along the road to the eventual triumph and beaming pride exuded by Enzo at the climax of the film.
As far as the artistry and construction of the film is concerned, there is little to celebrate. The film has the definite look of a television-movie, and remains low-fi throughout; with thin crowd scenes, coarse establishing shots, and even some helicopter footage to establish the surrounds of Napoli. The editing deserves praise, as it does what it can with the material to keep the pace moving and add direction to the film. The cinematography is competent, but unglamorous.
The core problem with this effort is that it is the typical “issues film” that might be shown in a high school health class; it bites off more than it can chew, in terms of child prostitution, corruption, organised crime, but then really has no way to deliver a meaningful or penetrating message on those issues. It goes dark, but it can’t go too dark; superficially glancing across the surface of issues as it bounces towards its feel-good, happy ending. Some moments are genuinely moving, and Beppe Fiorello is charismatic, although repetitive, in the role of Enzo. The rest of the cast are more problematic; and the younger they are, the more the respective actor’s portraits of their characters tend towards melodrama and caricature.
Scampia’s Gold would be fine as a late night film you stumble across while channel surfing, and stick with because nothing better is on. But as a festival film it struggles to maintain interest and justify the investment of the audience’s time. It is interesting to see the same street protests against political corruption and crime crop up again in contemporary Italian cinema, indeed this seems to be the theme of the festival, but Scampia’s Gold fails to meaningfully or emotionally deliver on the issues it raises.
Rating: Two stars.