A Chiara: Waking Up to the Nightmare

Sometimes, it?s hard to wake up when the dream is so good.

Set in Calabria,?A Chiara?tells the story of the Guerrasios, a respected and wealthy Italian family. On the eve of Claudio and Carmela?s oldest daughter?s 18th?birthday, the family have invited their extended family and friends to celebrate the occasion. The joy of celebration soon fades, however, when a car explodes on their street later that evening and Claudio disappears into the night. Although her mother denies any wrongdoing, 15-year-old Chiara (Swamy Rotolo) is unconvinced. Things continue to spiral when Chiara discovers a secret room in their living room, driving her to investigate her father?s ties to the criminal underworld. As she scratches and claws to find the truth, Chiara?s world is shaken and she must decide whether the life that she knows is worth fighting for.?

Directed by Jonas Carpignano,?A Chiara?is a coming-of-age tale set against the dark side of Italy?s urban centers. Anchored by an almost chilling performance by Swamy Rotolo,?Chiara?begins with a celebration of innocence and youth, it quickly takes a bleaker turn with the disappearance of Chiara?s father. With his kind heart, Chiara?s father is her world so his disappearance leaves her shattered. To her, he has been the very picture of devotion and adoration of his family. However, as she begins to discover the secrets that he keeps, her image of her entire family is threatened.?

Unlike other coming-of-age dramas which focus on one person?s growth through their experiences, A Chiarafeels as though it has something broader in mind. In some ways, Chiara?s journey is much larger than herself. It feels like the death of an Italian dream. Through his use of long, slow takes, Carpignano makes the underworld feel endless. Very quickly, the bright lights and enthusiasm of the party give way to a deeply colourless world. At the same time, Carpignano never allows the camera to wander too far from its subject. In fact, he often just lets the camera sit upon her face. This sort of performance is incredibly difficult to manage. (After all, who wants to have their face central to the screen so often?) 

Even so, Rotolo rises to the occasion, allowing her facial expression to reveal her inner struggles and pain as the life that she once knew gradually falls apart. With each discovery, Chiara becomes more jaded and more disappointed with the world as it truly is. The familial celebrations and every day teenage issues that seemed so important at the beginning of the film have melted away, leaving her with very little to stand on. Her maturation throughout the film feels like the opening of one?s eyes to reality rather than simply ?growing up?. In this way, there?s a deep sadness throughout the film as it challenges her assumptions about the reality. 

Eventually, Chiara is forced to resign herself to the fact that the world simply does not operate in the way that she felt in her youth. There are shadows in shrouds which cover the light. How do we live in a world where the men who claim to support us let us down? That question lies of the heart of A Chiara and hope feels fleeting. 

At the same time though, Chiara shows an incredible strength within herself that helps her to stand up in the midst of overwhelming evil. As she earns to return home to reclaim the life that she lost, she?s forced to wonder if that?s even possible. Nevertheless, Chiara?s courage to rebuild gives her the inner strength to survive and, potentially, even dream of a new life. 

A Chiara is playing in select theatres in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver on Friday, June 3rd, 2022.

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