Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2018 5:47 pm 
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Tough stuff

In a fast, highly focused sequence that sets the tone for the whole movie, at the outset of Pure Hearts/Cuori puri a girl is chased and caught by a young man working as a security guard. She has stolen a cell phone from a mall. She begs him to release her and he relents, and lets her walk away with the phone.

She has not walked out of his life but into it. How can they resist each other's intensity? These two star-crossed lovers won't let each other go, and the stuff pulling at their lives won't, either. Nor can we resist this compelling first scene and its consequences. Cuori puri is a fiercely focused little movie that runs and won't let you go. The title refers to Christian doctrine, but the movie itself has a "pure heart" too. Equally important, it has a good plot built out of the simplest and knottiest of everyday issues.

The girl is Agnese (Silene Calamazza) and the young security guard is Simone (Simone Liberati). Agnese is 17, about to turn 18. She is part of a Christian school and community and lives with her single evangelical mom. She is slim and pretty. Stefano is 25, robust and good-looking, seething with repressed energy. The outcome of their encounter makes her deeply grateful to him, and arouses an attraction in him that almost immediately finds a strong echo in her. He's from the wrong side of the tracks. She's under unusually trying moral constraints.

Agnese's Christian mother Marta (Barbora Bobulova) is kind but worried and overprotective. The reason she stole the cell phone turns out to be that her mother has taken hers away and won't return it, thus cutting her off from her school friends. Marta has pressed Agnese to take a vow of chastity till marriage, and she has agreed. But evangelical principles aside, Marta's seizing of Agnese's cell phone for suggestive messages she insists the boys sent her unsolicited is a sign Marta can't adjust to having a teenage daughter. Marta's mistrust is the kind that spurs rebellion in any normal teenager.

Before long Agnese and Stefano run into each other again - they're in the neighborhood - and before you know it he's kissing her. He puts his number on her new stolen phone, and an intense back-and-forth relationship ensues. This, Agnese must hide from her mother, leading to a major deception when the attraction leads to consummation - a vivid first sex scene.

At the film's Cannes 2017 Directors' Fortnight debut Jay Weissberg wrote a review of the film for Variety and Harry Windsor wrote one for Hollywood Reporter. Windsor praised the film for dealing with issues (religious fundamentalism, the Roma population) without seeming didactic. Weissberg was encouraged to see a small, original movie getting a major push-off against a sea of bigger budgeted Italian "mediocrities." This is encouraging. Cuori puri may be the new Italian neorealism. There are so many issues here, but they count as nothing against the attraction of a young couple falling in love, the force of it keeping things real.

Letting Agnese go gets Stefano fired from the mall and leaves him now stuck with a tedious new job guarding a parking lot. It adjoins a camp of Roma - gypsies- who are constantly threatening to overrun the flimsy wire fence, and apart from this constant provocation Stefano is ill equipped to deal with, this is a dull, lonely job.

Stefano speaks full-on Roman dialect and grew up poor. It turns out that while lately he has been trying to make a living by honest means, he was part of a small-time gang headed by drug dealer Lele (Edoardo Pesce, also in Open Roads 2018 film Fortunata, as well as Garrone's Cannes prizewinner Dogman). Thanks to his deadbeat, formerly abusive father (Federico Pacifici) ) Stefano's parents are months behind in rent and about to be evicted. They will be forced to go and live in a trailer, which also can't last. This turn of events makes Stefano see his people are not much of a cut above the Roma, who Lele tells him have plenty of money, despite their "caravans." Lele observes Stefano's struggle with the parking lot mockingly.

A Stefano, Liberati is a live wire. His sheer power onscreen impresses without seeming too theatrical. The movie is anchored by the explosiveness of the scenes between Caramazzi and Liberati, even on a first date when they go to the beach - for which she has realistically prepared by shaving around her pubes. This seemingly little swim is not without a playful underwater scene, symbolically underlining how deep the pair is raidly going.

But the well constructed screenplay insures that the scenes in between are almost as good, even the group ones where the big, bearded young evangelist priest Don Luca (Stefano Fresi) teaches the group Agnese is also in. Though De Paolis means us to see there is purity outside rigid chastity, Don Luca is likable and his lessons sound sensible. (Likewise the Roma get, though at some remove, a fair shake.)

Pure Hearts, satisfyingly, gives you no time to think. It's not very clear how Marta supports herself and Agnese or what Agnese's life is like outside Don Luca's pep talks and Stefano's wooing. De Paolis invests heavily in intense, emotional scenes, with no time spent on background or atmosphere, but it works.

Pure Hearts/Cuori puri, 114 mins., debuted 23 May 2017 in Directors Fortnight at Cannes, subsequently showing in at least five other international festivals. It was screened for this review as part of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2018. Q&A with Roberto De Paolis on June 1.

Showtime (Walter Reade Theater)
June 6 -2:00 PM

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