For those convinced that no amount of humiliation is too much for one character, “Pietro” might seem a powerful pic. Rising indie helmer Daniele Gaglianone strives for a pungent critique of a culture of cruelty with this story of a socially challenged man tormented by a junkie brother and society in general, but rather than hitting auds in the gut with the force of truth, the movie wallows in exploitative scenes that scream manipulation. Good intentions plus a certain filmic inventiveness will likely translate into fest prizes and minor Euro arthouse play.
Protag Pietro (Pietro Casella) has some kind of developmental disability — it could be Asperger syndrome or borderline schizophrenia. Unequipped for most jobs, he works putting fliers on windshields or stuffing them into mailboxes. Society’s cruelty is revealed early on, when Pietro witnesses a gang of youths tormenting a homeless man in a subway car.
Home life with drug-addled brother Francesco (Francesco Lattarulo) is only marginally less terrifying, as Pietro is regularly made to entertain Francesco’s barfly friends with a series of vulgar grimaces and gestures. Though obviously uncomfortable at being thrust into the position of a dancing bear, Pietro genuinely believes his brother’s pals like him; however, even given the guy’s diminished reasoning skills, this acceptance of constant humiliation becomes one of the script’s least believable elements.
Pietro’s sleazy employer (Giuseppe Mattia) asks him to train a fragile woman (Carlotta Saletti) who’s being sexually abused by the boss. Working on the idea that two pathetic people finding a connection will accrue more sympathy than one alone, the script touches on a connection between this sad pair, but since the woman’s character is never developed, she simply serves as another victim. Pietro invites her to the bar where his brother hangs out, warning her that the denizens behave badly yet really like him; once there, they’re both terrorized by the crowd.
Pietro’s long monologue at pic’s end is designed to increase viewer identification, but the patently manipulative scenes beforehand have created a barrier too steely to penetrate. Gaglianone (“Changing Destiny”) strives hard for brutal realism, yet his pileup of torments makes the viewing experience painful — not because Pietro is mistreated, but because it’s done in a way intended to milk audience sympathy.
Giving his two protags the same first names as the thesps appears calculated to make viewers think there’s some basis in fact here, though the actors are all professionals, with most coming from backgrounds in comedy. Casella is frequently seen in closeups looking pained, semi-panicked or disturbed, and while the performer inhabits the role, he can’t overcome a one-note quality to which the thoroughly predictable finale adds no dimension.
Especially in the early scenes, Gherardo Gossi’s camera moves a lot, mimicking Pietro’s unsettled state yet often just seeming unsure of where to focus attention. Cuts to a black screen reference a scene in which Francesco teases Pietro for reading Jules Verne’s “Michel Strogoff,” in which the hero pretends to be blinded, but then sees; unfortunately, the device offers no substantive connection between Strogoff and Pietro, and the latter’s final epiphany provides no catharsis. Numbered chapter headings divide scenes, reinforcing the sense of a novel’s progression, though its use here seems superfluous.