Family Circus: Raising Kids and Throwing Knives in La Pivellina

La pivellina begins on a woman with a face like lumpy gruel and a fuchsia dye-job, wandering the wet courtyards of a sagging Roman suburb—yet it isn't a dreary movie. Looking for a lost dog, she instead returns to her trailer home with an abandoned toddler named Asia. From here, Italian-Austrian co-directors Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel observe the woman (Patrizia Gerardi), her husband (Walter Saabel), and the 14-year-old they look after (Tairo Caroli) in their individual responses to this new responsibility. The makeshift family operates a makeshift circus—not the Fellini metaphor-for-life kind, but a glamourless, workaday operation. Given Gerardi and Saabel's well-practiced knife-throwing act, it's a safe bet that the non-professional actors, appearing under their actual names, are playing variations on their actual selves. (Covi and Frimmel previously documented itinerant circus folk in 2005's Babooska.) Scenes showing the tricky process of acclimatizing a child to new surroundings, and the patchwork of experiences that make up an education—both Asia's and Tairo's—are grounded by entirely affectless performances, not least that of little Asia Crippa. The marginalized characters and tracking camera superficially recall the Dardenne brothers, but Covi and Frimmel's aesthetic is less austere than home-video intimate, while their film is less interested in imposing redemption on the lower classes than in letting them speak in their own voices, and celebrating the weed-like resilience of the have-nots.

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