Debuting writer-director Matteo Garrone’s “Land in Between” is an expanded feature version of his short “Silhouette,” completed with film stock awarded as the main prize this year at director Nanni Moretti’s Sacher Festival. Winner of the special jury prize at the Turin Young Cinema fest, this interesting but modest docu-fictional glimpse into the lives of immigrants in Italy makes only minor gains in longer form, probably curtailing exposure to marginal fest and cultural institute bookings.
Made up of three episodes set in Rome and focusing on the meager employment opportunities Italy presents Third World immigrants, the film opens with the original short, about a trio of Nigerian prostitutes working on the capital’s rural outskirts. The women haggle over prices with johns, who are then entertained in rundown shacks on the sheep-grazing fields. A footnote explains that they were sold into prostitution under threat of black magic, and that their (mainly African) bosses oblige them to earn a quota of around $40,000 to buy back their freedom.
The second part, observed with well-gauged detachment, takes in young Albanian boys being casually exploited for unskilled manual labor. Like Mexican workers in 1950s —and present-day — California, these groups of clandestine immigrants convene at established roadside points every day where Italians come to round up cheap construction hands or painters at a fraction of the going rate.
Final seg is more scripted and slightly less successful, centering on an old Egyptian manning gas pumps at night and dispensing wisdom while silently enduring the humiliating condescension and occasional threats of his customers.
No-budget project (reportedly made for around $20,000) skillfully uses non-professional actors, most of whom are interpreting their own tough realities. Shot in crude documentary style, Garrone’s small but sincere film benefits from its non-judgmental stance and its matter-of-fact presentation of a bleak situation in a country where immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon.