Playing Detective: Our Review of ‘A Chiara’

Posted in Mubi, What's Streaming? by - February 03, 2023
Playing Detective: Our Review of ‘A Chiara’

A Chiara is the latest installment of what seems to be director-writer Jonas Carpignano’s Calabrese trilogy. This installment shows the titular character (Swamy Rotolo) appropriately 15 year old aspirations – to do well as part of her track team and to party. What eventually bubbles under the surface is her father Claudio’s (Claudio Rotolo) membership with the ‘Ndrangheta. This concept can go in many ways both positively and negatively. Even if it spends two hours observing Chiara is enough to see if there are traces of her father within her.

Another reductive elevator pitch for Carpignano’s film is if we imagine Anna Paquin in Margaret and Anna Paquin in The Irishman within the same person. And if that person wanting to be more active in discovering her father’s second life. In depicting that quest for discovery, Carpignano, a third generation Italian director, gives the story, for the most part, a current and vibrant aesthetic. He incorporates the dreamy neon colors of nightlife and cellphone screens where Claudio’s mugshot confronts Chiara. The ubiquity of his face haunts her and us.

Turning A Chiara into a character piece for Chiara is mostly a good decision but it has some pitfalls. She eventually plays detective as her father disappears, which gives Swamy less people to have rapports with. Swamy carries the film, that’s unmistakable. And eventually, her cousin Antonio (Antonio Rotolo) and, spoiler alert, Claudio, show her some of the ropes. The picture they paint of Calabria’s underbelly is satisfying enough but it may be nicer to show her relationship with those male characters.

A Chiara, for the most part, succeeds in replicating the female gaze on men. In a way it gives this a hall of mirrors effect. However, some of the visuals still feel familiar in that European and Mediterranean Neorealism sense. In other words, we’re seeing a lot of the back of Chiara’s head. Other innovations to the subgenre work, like the first dreamlike sequence. But then the second dreamlike sequence comes along. And there’s the fear that the rest of the film is like that.

Thankfully, A Chiara powers through its rough patches. Even Chiara and Antonio’s short conversation about Raphael, despite its didacticism, effectively points to their family’s trap. That they’re part of a possibly inescapable cycle. Another thing that may make viewers grateful for this film is how it strays from other examples in the genre, especially in dealing with female characters. Chiara is, again, an active participant in this story. And Swomy finds nuances in her performance to never be in the moral high ground, an ambiguous girl in an ambiguous world.

Watch A Chiara on MUBI Canada.

This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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