A nearly sightless boy’s discovery of the possibilities of recorded sound gives helmer Cristiano Bortone both a cinematic and emotional basis for his human — if somewhat overly calculated — heart-tugger “Red Like the Sky.” Based on the childhood experiences of pic’s sound editor, Mirco Mencacci, the gently conceived film juggles crowd-pleasing sentiments directly from “Cinema Paradiso” about the love of movies with anti-authoritarian views that make the pic classically Italian. Film’s collection of aud awards at fests points to commercial potential in various markets (including the always tough U.S.), though wider international release has so far been choppy.
Ten-year-old Mirco (Luca Capriotti) is first seen being raised by loving parents near Pisa in 1970, but an accident involving a hunting rifle (sloppily staged) leaves him with such poor vision that all he can see are blurs and shadows. Since Italian law prevents blind and nearly blind children from attending general public schools, Mirco is sent to Genoa, home of Italy’s most respected school for the blind, which is run by a rather stern director (Norman Mozzato).
Between the director — who seems to take his own blindness as a license for being harsh to everyone — and school bully Valerio (Andrea Gussoni), Mirco endures a testy welcoming. Pointedly, the school is a Catholic-run institution and Mirco is a vocal non-believer, allowing Bortone to make additional anti-clerical points.
Kindly teacher Don Giulio (Paolo Sassanelli) tries to coax Mirco to learn Braille, but the boy resists, finding some refuge with tubby buddy Simone (Simone Gulli) and stumbling upon a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. Don Giulio’s class assignment to do a paper on the four seasons becomes a ticket for Mirco to record natural as well as foley sounds to suggest the aural passing of the seasons.
Bortone’s scenario, in collaboration with Monica Zapelli (“The Hundred Steps”) and Paolo Sassanelli, tends to be facile when setting up dramatic points; thus, Mozzato’s director is predictably angry when learning about Mirco’s creative form of audio “writing,” placing Sassanelli’s Don Giulio in the role of the liberal mentor who recognizes a talented diamond in the rough.
Mirco, as expressed by Capriotti in a fine child perf, is full of moxie and stubbornness, a ready-made pint-sized movie hero who obviously will triumph over odds.
Alongside these and other calculations, such as Mirco winning the affections of sweet and smart Francesca (Francesca Maturanza), daughter of the school’s caretaker, “Red Like the Sky” plays like a romanticized re-telling of an actual young life that was likely much harsher around the edges. At the same time, Bortone applies a solid command of emotional build and crescendos, as well as pace, to deliver an entertainment that also refuses to insult auds.
A more creative filmmaker would have drawn stronger visual connections from Mirco’s developing love affair with sound and its possibilities, but Bortone wittily shows the ways in which incredible effects (such as the roar of a dragon for a fairy tale story that Mirco and Francesca hatch) can be made with humble means. Sound mix (by Stefano Campus) and edit (led by Mencacci himself) is a superb standout amid a fine tech package, with Ezio Bosso’s score dipping too much into the Michael Nyman playbook.