Shooting the Moon,” an unblinking examination of a young teenager forced to make adult decisions, is an accessible Italo film that should perform decently in Euro arthouses and has a shot at specialized distribution elsewhere.
Set in Rome, pic homes in on a 14-year-old boy named Siddhartha, played with rare sensitivity and skill by Niccolo Senni. Apart from the burden of his name, Siddhartha is saddled with a hopelessly unreliable mother, and he’s been forced to grow up fast. His mom, Silvia (Valeria Golino in a solid performance), is a heroin addict; Siddhartha’s video filmmaker father, Massimo (a convincing Sergio Rubini), left them years earlier, though he often drops by. Since the marriage broke up, Silvia has had a relationship with a yuppie lawyer, Roberto (Stefano Dionisi), resulting in little Domitilla (Francesca di Giovanni), now 4 years old.
Domitilla usually lives with her father, but he occasionally, reluctantly, lets her stay with Silvia and Siddhartha. The boy adores his little half-sister and is fiercely protective of her. He’s faced with an agonizing decision when the little girl, rummaging through her mother’s things, pricks herself on a used needle.
Unwilling to seek help and advice from his father or from Roberto (he fears, probably correctly, that the latter won’t let Domitilla come to stay again if he finds out what’s happened), he turns to the Internet for information. Siddhartha is advised to have the little girl tested for AIDS and various forms of hepatitis— not so easy to do if you’re not an adult, as he soon discovers when faced with sympathetic but unhelpful medical bureaucrats.
The picture, whose original title translates as “The Pear Tree,” sympathetically and unsentimentally explores the teen’s plight and his increasingly desperate attempts to get help for his little sister without letting the adults in his life in on the secret. Writer-director Francesca Archibugi pulls no punches in exploring the plight of this determined, likable and frustrated youngster against the background of a soulless modern city.
Pristine production values, including somberly lit widescreen images of cramped apartments and city streets, give “Shooting the Moon” a realistic but inevitably downbeat atmosphere. Nevertheless, the film ends on a note of optimism.
Senni and di Giovanni inhabit their roles with complete conviction, and the film’s considerable success owes much to their natural performances.
Archibugi handles this gritty material with sensitivity, and manages to inject moments of humor into what could otherwise have been a grim tale.