First love is tacked in a gentle and cartoonish way in Sergio Basso’s Elementary Loves; a wholesome family film that makes a nice break in the festival line-up for theater-goes with children. Beautiful shots and the occasional winking joke will keep adult viewers interested too.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Sergio Basso
Screenplay: Sergio Basso, Marianna Cappi, and Marina Polla De Luca.
Runtime: 94 minutes.
Cast: Maxim Bychkov, Cristiana Capotondi, Andrey Chernyshov, Rachele Cremona.
Trailer: “Son, you skate so bad...”
Plot: Young Tobia is content in his small community in the Italian Alps; daydreaming at school, and playing with his friends in the local ice hockey team. But things change when cute bad girl Agata shows up – stealing Tobia’s heart and leading him into endless trouble. But his friends are there for him, and together they conspire to land their little ice hockey team into a world championship in Moscow; where love and foolish plans run wild.
Festival Goers? See it (if you have kids).
Viewed as part of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.
Review: Sergio Basso’s Elementary Loves (Amori elementari) is a charmingly constructed children’s film that acts as a gentle introduction to a boy or girl’s first love. Highly stylised in a cartoonish meets fairytale manner, the film delivers as much silliness and kid-driven humour as possible within a loose hour and a half. While unlikely to challenge or satisfy adult movie-going audiences on their own, this unlikely entrant in the Lavazza Italian Film Festival is a blessed break for parents suffering through endless viewings ofFrozen and the like, or worn-out film critics sick of enduring obnoxious melodramas. The narrative is cheekily set up and draws audiences in with both its familiarity and its idealism; prompting younger viewers to think about the value of friendship, the confusing difficulties of parental relationships, and the importance of striving to achieve but enjoying yourself along the way. Viewers are best positioned to think of this as an updated, Europeanised version of The Mightly Ducks, complete with an ice hockey showdown with the dreaded Ruskies in a beautifully shot Moscow.
The narrative follows young Tobia (Andrea Pittorino); who is lucky to have loving parents and a safe, beautiful community within the Italian Alps to grow up in. Things seem pretty settled and comfortable for him, with languorous school days to daydream through and the fun of a few ice hockey games to play in with his friends at the local team. The competition itself is taken only partly seriously by the boys and girls who constitute the team; with their coach Ivan (Andrey Chernyshov) the only fully committed member, himself a Russian émigré and former champion. His son, Aleksey (Maxim Bychkov), also plays on the team and uses it as an outlet to escape the tension at home – where Ivan and his wife Vera (Olga Pogodina) are having difficulties adapting to their new life in the Italian Alps. Add into the mix friend Katerina (Anna Potebnya), herself adopted as a child from a Russian orphanage, and Tobia’s other colourful classmates and team members, and Ivan has a lot to manage in simply getting the chaotic group of kids together and onto the ice. He is ably assisted by friend Sara (Cristiana Capotondi), who herself is only just recovering from the dissolution of a long term relationship.
Things are thrown into further confusion with the arrival of Agata (Rachele Cremona), a youthful rebel and initial outsider to her group, and her family. Playing chess with a Russian boy online and attracting the affections of Tobia, she seems set on causing nothing but trouble and joins the local team. Things begin to heat up when poor Ivan discovers his charges have entered themselves into an international children’s tournament in Moscow – adding to his stress levels, and straining his relationship with Vera. Of course the kids get into all sorts of trouble away from home, with one scene finding the group taking refuge in an isolated Russian monastery, much to the chagrin of the good natured priest who looks after it. But all’s well that ends well, and that’s certainly the case here.
As the title gives away, the first stirrings of love feature heavily in this otherwise light-hearted outing. Vera conducts a quasi-séance for her girlfriends, assuring them that ‘your life as a single girl is coming to an end,’ – ‘as what?’ – ‘as a spinster!’ she replies puckishly. A cute handwritten survey the girls fill out includes the option ‘Love is: moments of sorrow and hardship.’ The film maintains a child-like zest throughout, but at points doesn’t know what to do with it – becoming distracted and heading off in another direction entirely. There’s much food fighting and a truly fantastic James Bond-inspired scene of the protagonists zipping down the ski slopes, pursued by bullies and scored to Tom Toms. The cinematography is colourfully and creatively composed, with some startlingly beautiful shots of the mountain town – and a bridge that seems to stretch across eternity, surrounded by breathtaking mountains in the background. On occasion I was a little heartbroken that these stunning shots didn’t linger a little longer, but this is a children’s film and the pace zips along – assisted by some annoying but mandatory editing and fast forwards, as well as some ADHD cuts within scenes.
Plus, I’m a sucker for some of the cuter elements within the film – like Katerina’s appearance as a swan princess on ice, or Agata’s counterpoint appearance as a suave black cat. There’s a joyfulness to the film which Basso manages to capture and maintain, redeeming its few faults. It’s witnessed most readily in the first ‘date’ that Tobia and Agata go on – listening to records, jumping around the house, and then mixing whipped cream with ketchup and getting mess everywhere in that typical experimental fun that all play turns into at that age. It’s sweet and it’s innocent; it is poignant enough in pointing towards the bright lights and deeper shades that will be in these children’s futures as they grow into their teenage years, but it doesn’t overdo it. ‘I swear on Bobby Fisher’s life I’ll smash this phone to bits!’ Agata yells in protest in Moscow (and rubbing further salt into that old wound), proving that the film does have a line or two for an adult chuckle; but mostly the film sets out to appeal to kids. The periodic appearance of an alpine choir at the most unexpected moments gives a slight Wes Anderson touch to the film; capping off a well-directed genre film with a host of solid performances.
Elementary Loves is worth a detour if you want to introduce your children to the enjoyment and different perspectives that one can experience with films from all over the world.
Rating: Three and a half stars.