Small-town confinement, poverty, and parental problems confront innocent 20-year-old Vince in this coming-of-age drama. Universal themes make “Break Free” an engaging if at times overly endearing small film. Driven by nuanced performances and a well-wielded narrative, pic should strike chords in Italy and, with proper marketing from producer-distrib Fandango, earn helmer Gianluca Maria Tavarelli the local box office recognition that eluded him with previous pics, despite critical appreciation. Niche international prospects appear possible.
Freckle-faced Vince (Elio Germano), in v.o., provides a quick depiction of dismal life in Bussi, his mountain village in the depressed Abruzzi region southeast of Rome. Protag’s father, Cenzo (Luigi Maria Burruano), is layed off when a local chemical plant closes down, and the unemployed factory workers are given a government job clearing out rocks in the Abruzzi national park, where one of Cenzo’s disheartened co-workers commits suicide.
Cenzo’s wife, Paola (Anita Zagaria), dumps him for a local politico with whom she flees to the nearby Adriatic seaside resort of Pescara.
Cut to the balmy beach life of Pescara, where Vince, singing “I Will Survive,” also has headed, having landed a summer job as a junior cook at a resort.
As he fumbles with frying pans, he falls in love with Genny (Nicole Grimaudo), a waitress afraid to travel by bus or train. He helps her overcome these panics and romance sparks. But just as they are about to consummate their relationship after a romantic dinner, the despondent Cenzo appears on Vince’s doorstep, demanding hospitality and guidance in his vain attempt to recover his estranged wife.
The choices Vince has to make form the central conflict of the drama, paralleled by the contrast between desolate Bussi and sunny Pescara, a summer playground for the Italian middle class.
Crisp lensing and well-paced editing underscore this juxtaposition, with pic becoming quicker and brighter when action moves to Pescara.
Understated performances, a rarity for Italy, bring characters to life, particularly in key father-son scenes. Music is apt, with the Sacramento band Cake’s cover of “I Will Survive” ending things on the right note.