Io non ho paura (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

Michele also loses faith in the adults who are supposed to look after him.

Io Non Ho Paura (i'm Not Scared)

Director: Gabriele Salvatores
Cast: Guiseppe Cristiano, Mattia Di Pierro, Dino Abbrescia, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Miramax
First date: 2003
US DVD Release Date: 2004-10-19

Children are running. The sun is bright, the field where they scamper is golden and vast. Accompanied by an increasingly speedy and complex violin track, the camera barely keeps up as the kids hurtle forward, their bare legs dark amid the sunburned cast of the grasses. Maria (Giulia Matturo), younger and smaller than her fellows, stumbles, and her older brother, nine-year-old Michele (Guiseppe Cristiano) goes back to fetch her, the camera low and just behind him, his red shirt electric against the sharp blue sky. He gathers her up and takes her hand, together they catch up with the other children, now gathered at an abandoned farmhouse, claimed by the bully of the group. "Finders keepers," he announces, his legs swinging as he sits on rock and puffs his chest.

Michele and the others are afraid of the bully, in the way that children are of one another -- not quite contemplating dire results of disobedience, but more abstract awfulness. As Michele has lost the race, he fears he will have to "pay up," but this time, as usual, the older boy picks on the easiest target, an overweight girl whose hands tremble as she agrees to pay, by taking down her pants. Michele stands up for her, taking the punishment as, suddenly, he recognizes in himself a kind of courage.

The feat of daring Michele is called on to perform is boyish, certainly, but also unnerving. He agrees -- or rather, submits -- to walking across a rickety rafter in the farmhouse. Just when he seems about to fall, he regathers himself, reciting to himself a tale of courage that he has conjured himself, about an agile "Lizard Man" who, on teetering, becomes "the Glass Man, because, if he falls, he breaks." Though asked to speak louder, he refuses: it's his own story, his own sustenance. And with it, he does not fall or break. Indeed, he goes on to demonstrate a bravery that is at once unusual for its moral sensibility, but also typical of children who have not yet learned to fear what the world has to offer. Michele's story becomes increasingly complicated. It is not enough to say that he loses innocence by exposure to bad behavior and obvious selfishness, though this is surely true. He also loses faith in the adults who are supposed to look after him. His maturation is tragic.

Michele's self-narration -- most often taking the form of stories he tells himself at night, under his covers with a flashlight -- punctuates Gabriele Salvatores' Io non ho paura (I'm Not Scared), now released on an extras-less DVD. "So they bury him and he remains in the belly of the earth," he recites, "among secrets, corpses, bones, skeletons, and darkness." A solemn, succinct consideration of the ways this child learns to interpret human motives, to make sense of events that appear to have no sense, the film is adapted by Niccolò Ammaniti from his novel. Set in the Basilicata and Puglia regions of southern Italy, it paints a portrait of inevitable disillusionment that is at once grim and romantic, broadly allegorical and all too real.

This adventure begins just after he and his playmates leave the farmhouse. Headed home, Maria discovers she has lost her glasses, whereupon her generous big brother runs back to retrieve them. On spotting the glasses, Michele discovers a terrible truth: a boy in a hole. More specifically, he catches a glimpse of a thin, pale leg beneath a blanket, barely visible at the bottom of a pit, covered over by a rudimentary metal panel. Horrified, Michele rushes home, in search of some sense of order. His mother Anna (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) prepares dinner, his often absent father Pino (Dino Abbrescia) appears at last, smoking with a cigarette holder and giving Michele a model gondola that is too fragile to play with.

Unable to forget the boy in the hole, Michele soon goes back. His first encounter with Filippo (Mattia di Pierro) is wholly alarming: as Michele peers into the darkness of the pit, suddenly the other boy's face appears, seeming to mirror Michele's own -- indeed, he is the figure in Michele's nighttime stories, the child lost among secrets and corpses. His returns to the hole are acutely framed -- he rides his bike in bright sunlight, Filippo languishes in utter, frightening shadows. When they first look on one another, Michele screams, the other boy looks up, plaintive and weary; cut to another shot of Michele on his bicycle, pedaling furiously away from the farmhouse; cut to a shot of Michele flying over the camera in slow motion, as his bike hits a bump and he is flung from it violently.

It's a daunting start for a friendship, but eventually, Michele's curiosity gets the better of him. He returns again to the pit. "Are you alive?" he asks of the limp, peering form before him. "Agua," comes back a weak voice. Michele lowers a pot of water on a rope, and in the days to come, returns with bread he buys at a local shop (this after imagining that a starving boy might want chocolate first). Blinded, chained by his leg, and desperately enfeebled by his weeks alone, in utter darkness, Filippo is simultaneously frightening and pathetic, absolutely vulnerable and stunningly resilient. He is the Lizard Man and the Glass Man, broken and in desperate need of rescue.

As they begin to talk, the boys learn they are the same age (in the fifth grade) and share interests in model cars and comic books, their evolving sense of interdependence and trust parallels Michele's increasing distrust in his parents. For the most ghastly aspect of this story that becomes Michele's is his realization that adults -- in particular his parents, as well as his father's unpleasant "business associate," Sergio (Diego Abatantuono) -- lie, steal, and abuse those who depend on them. As Michele tries to figure out how Filippo has come to be hidden in this hole, he also comes to see danger in his once-familiar surroundings.

Though the plot occasionally lurches into melodrama, Italo Petriccione's striking cinematography and Massimo Fiocchi's delicate editing provide nuance for Michele's emotional and physical journeys. Most provocatively, Io non ho paura reveals the reasons children can't help but be afraid, despite the efforts of most adults to protect them, to preserve their inexperience and trust for as long as possible. When Filippo asks Michele, "Are you my guardian angel?" the answer can only be, no. Children are not angels, only children. As such, they are imaginative, courageous, and observant. And they are scared for good reasons.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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