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Little Girl (La Pivellina)

Release Year:      2009
Studio:      First Run Features
Format:      Colour; NTSC; Subtitled; Widescreen
Rated:      Not Rated
# of Discs:      1
Running Time:      100 minutes
DVD Release Date:      March 20, 2012

Screenwriter:      Tizza Covi
Directors:      Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel
Actors:      Patrizia Gerardi, Asia Crippa, Tairo Caroli, Walter Saabel
DVD Features:      In Italian with English subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating:      10/10

First Run Features Write-up: 
Bathed in the neorealist tradition of Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, LITTLE GIRL (“LA PIVELLINA”) is a captivating tale of people at the margins of society who open their hearts to a stranger.

In a run-down park on the outskirts of Rome, a two year-old girl is discovered and taken in by a family of hard-luck circus performers. A note in the child’s pocket from a desperate mother reveals little about who she is or why she was left. As the bond grows between the girl and her surrogate family, this naturalistic drama becomes a reveling and soulful portrait of courage and discrimination, and of loss and togetherness.

Jon Ted Wynne Review: 
Italian neo-realism is a term that describes an Italian national cinematic movement that is characterized by stories set amongst the poor and working class, filmed on location and frequently using nonprofessional actors. The queen of this type of Italian cinema in its heyday (post-WWII and well into the fifties) was the great Italian actress Anna Magnani, whose abilities were described as “volcanic” among many other superlatives.

LITTLE GIRL (LA PIVELLINA in Italian) evokes not only the semi-documentary style of Italian neo-realism cinema, and the best of its directors, Vittorio de Sica and Roberto Rossellini, it features a central performance by Patrizia Gerardi that is reminiscent of the great Magnani herself. What more could one ask for?

According to DVD extras, the abandonment of children in Italy is a common occurrence. The film-making team of Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel decided to use this tragic truth as the starting point of LITTLE GIRL. An abandoned two-year-old girl name Asia (played with remarkable precociousness by Asia Crippa–it doesn’t get any more natural than this, folks), is rescued by a family of small-time circus performers, themselves outsiders to mainstream society. The filmmakers found a real-life family of circus performers and constructed scenarios around which each scene in the film was played. A scripted beginning and end to each sequence was elaborated upon with improvisation that is so believable and intimate that it humiliates a lot of professional actors who attempt the same (I’m thinking about you, everyone involved with “Blue Valentine”).

Without revealing what ultimately happens (and, to be truthful, not a lot does happen, nor needs to) the final shot is as poetically cinematic as, say, the final shot of Garbo’s “Queen Christina”, in which the artist’s stillness and the perfectly-sculpted composition of the shot draws the viewer into the mind of the subject and forms a visual impression not easily forgotten. In the case of LITTLE GIRL, the image is of an aged, weary, but still potentially “volcanic” Madonna With Child and is as beautiful and poignant an image as one is ever likely to see on film again. It is perfectly timed against the real-time twilight and the sleepiness of the child. All the trials of a difficult life and the resilience to forge ahead is evident in the eyes of “Patti,” the surrogate mother, whom we have come to love and admire.

LITTLE GIRL is yet another gem of an out-of-the-mainstream film from First Run Features, the New York City-based American distributor of countless foreign and independent films that might otherwise never see the light of day in North America. While sometimes pushing the envelope in terms of what audiences might appreciate as cinematic art, First Run Features has been doggedly supporting small-scale fiction and non-fiction films since 1979. Their survival is an example of the Little Engine That Could and long may they continue to bring films like LITTLE GIRL to discerning audiences.

There isn’t a false note to be heard in this glorious example of a genre that can all too quickly become tedious without the right balance of restraint and tact. Apart from the interaction between Patti and Asia, one is certain to smile at the way Patti scolds her wayward mutt, Hercules, (the growling and teeth-baring aren’t fake) and the way she swerves to avoid the half dozen knives thrown at her by her husband, the wonderful Walter Saabel, as they demonstrate their agility and skill with one of their circus acts. The slight smile on her face as she dodges the blades is like a metaphor for how she faces life–with a little bit of humour and a huge dose of determination, putting on a brave face to potential danger.

Patrizia Gerardi, with her bright orange hair which isn’t the least bit distracting as it is simply her, is unlikely to win an Academy Award (as did Anna Magnani for her towering performance in “The Rose Tattoo” in the mid-fifties) but she gives a performance that is astounding in the purity of its emotion and the simplicity of its truth. That is pure Magnani, and that is why the comparison is apt.

LITTLE GIRL (LA PIVELLINA) is not to be ignored or abandoned to obscurity. Find it. Watch it. Remember it.