Former documentarist Edoardo Winspeare makes a resonant feature bow with “Pizzicata,” a restrained Italian dustbowl drama that recalls the early pics of the Taviani Bros. but with more visual and emotional warmth. Set in the helmer’s home region, the barren Salentino peninsula at the bottom of Italy’s heel, this small but engrossing movie was one of the surprise discoveries of the Edinburgh fest and looks like a shoe-in for Euroweb sales. Highly specialized theatrical dates are also a possibility, given strong critical support.
Set in summer 1943, film focuses on a struggling peasant family comprising a widowed father and his three daughters. When a U.S. fighter plane is shot down, they take in the sole survivor, Toni (Fabio Frascaro), whose grandparents originally came from the region. Passed off to the authorities as a cousin, the newcomer slowly develops a liking for the area and decides to stay. More dangerously, a mutual attraction develops between him and one of the daughters, Cosima (Chiara Torelli), who’s already promised to the son of the local rich man.
Winspeare, who studied at Munich’s film school, makes plentiful use of local color, especially music and dance, but never loses sight of the emotional arcs that give the gently simmering relationships their depth. Though the pacing is measured, the film doesn’t drag: behind the apparent lack of showy technique, there’s a real intelligence at work, with discreet use of tracking shots, neatly composed visuals and honey-lit interiors all providing a quiet, sustained momentum. The economy of the dialogue, like the picture as a whole, is never arty for its own sake.
As the father, Cosimo Cinieri (the only pro in the cast) etches a gruff but caring figure, ready to stand by his daughter’s wish to maintain the family’s independence. Each of the women is beautifully drawn, from young Ines D’Ambrosio as the lively ankle-biter of the pack, through Torelli as Toni’s gentle amorosa, to the dignified Anna Dimitri, waiting for news of her own boyfriend, Rocco, who’s away at the front.
Film’s title has a subtle double meaning that reflects the mystical-superstitious atmosphere permeating the action. On the one hand, it means those who dance to the local pizzica music, with its stylized flirting, and on the other, a woman who is supposedly “bitten” by a tarantula and enters a kind of possessed state. Though the low-budgeter was three years in the making, it’s smooth at all tech levels.