A young Neapolitan boy takes the plunge from petty crime to becoming a junior hit man for the mob in the realistically told, scarcely believable drama, "A Children's Story." Film tries to capture a chilling Italian social ill from an intimate perspective but gets muddled by a murky psychological plotline.

A young Neapolitan boy takes the plunge from petty crime to becoming a junior hit man for the mob in the realistically told, scarcely believable drama, “A Children’s Story.” Film tries to capture a chilling Italian social ill from an intimate perspective but gets muddled by a murky psychological plotline. Since release on May 14, pic has been struggling at local arthouses; however, its troubling theme and strong central perf by young actor Gianluca Di Gennaro are calling cards for some fest slots.

Adolescent Mafia murderers are known in Italy as “baby killers,” because they’re trained to kill while still legally minors and therefore cannot be punished under adult law. However, this attempt to look at the psychology of one, via a long string of flashbacks as he travels on the subway to his first “job,” lacks vividness and tension. By the time he reaches his stop, the audience has become lost in the convoluted backstory.

Eleven-year-old Rosario (Di Gennaro) and his pals play chicken, daring each other to cross a busy highway doing cartwheels and other risky acrobatics amid speeding cars. The posse’s regular hangout, the pool hall Las Vegas, is also the stomping ground of seedy old mobster Casaluce (Sergio Solli), who gets the boys to steal, for a pittance.

An orphan, Rosario lives with his bed-ridden grandmother, Lilina (Nuccia Fumo). After packing his piece in a sports bag, he takes the subway to “work.”

The kid’s stream-of-consciousness memory flow includes him falling in love with a much older girl who lives at a halfway house. When she tragically dies, the trauma leads him to be recruited by Damiano (Carmine Recano), a flashy young lieutenant of the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia, and also motivates his willingness to become a killer for cash.

Simplistic attempt to provide an explanation — and a moral justification of sorts — for Rosario’s final trigger-pulling act undermines Di Gennaro’s nuanced performance as an increasingly numbed but not emotionless, angry adolescent. Understated lensing is crisp, but unfortunately broken up by frequent flashback fadeouts.

Music by Neapolitan ethnopop group Almamegretta soon becomes repetitive.

A Children's Story

Italy

Production

A Mikado release of a Pequod production, with participation of Istituto Luce. Produced by Rosario Rinaldo. Directed by Andrea and Antonio Frazzi. Screenplay, Diego De Silva, Marcello Fois, Ferdinando Vicentini Orgnani, Andrea and Antonio Frazzi, based on the book by De Silva.

Crew

Camera (color), Paolo Carnera; editor, Claudio Cutri; music, Almamegretta ; production designer, Mario Di Pace; costume designer, Mariolina Bono; sound (Dolby Digital), Mauro Lazzaro. Reviewed at Intrastevere Cinema, Rome, May 26, 2004. (Also in Karlovy Vary Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Gianluca Di Gennaro, Carmine Recano, Arturo Paglia, Miriam Candurro, Sergio Solli, Nuccia Fumo. (Neapolitan dialect)
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more