Part horror movie, part political thriller, this haunting, eerie drama is set in the bankrupt rural south of Italy during the late 1970s. In one scene, the pubescent boy at the centre of the drama, Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano), is startled to discover a blind, naked child in a pit beside a remote, ruined farm. It’s a chilling scene that wouldn’t look out of place in a David Lynch movie. Elsewhere in the film, Michele looks on as several military helicopters swarm about a group of fugitive adults before descending upon and absconding with them.

As it turns out, it was the intention of director Gabriele Salvatores to film the story of a boy passing from innocence to experience (adapted from Niccolo Ammaniti’s novel by the author himself) in the style of a thriller. Coming of age, Salvatores says, is a frightening experience. He’s right, of course. Puberty, an age that’s no longer childhood, but neither is it fully-fledged adulthood, combines a fear of the unknown with the horrors of knowing too much.

Appropriately, then, for the most part I’m Not Scared keeps its audience as much in the dark as the film’s innocent protagonist. Who is the boy in the pit? Is he alive, or, as he repeatedly claims to Michele in an eerie whisper, dead? Who are the strange, unfriendly men living with Michele’s mother, father and younger sister? And why are they glued to the television every night?

If you know your Italian social history circa the troubled 1970s you’ll be able to work out what the seemingly incongruous events add up to.

Unwholesome as those events are, I’m Not Scared manages to be a beautifully realised pastoral drama (something Salvatores had

moderate success with in his earlier film, Mediterraneo). In contrast to the ugliness of dead children and brutish men, the film boasts a picture of idyllic country living (idyllic at least in Michele’s eyes prior to his fall from grace). In the opening sequence, he, his sister and his friends run wild through fields of tall, dry grass rasping in the hot breeze. ltalo Petriccione’s photography of the baking landscape is vivid enough to induce an itchy heat rash.

Childhood’s end

The performances Salvatores elicits from his cast, particularly the kids, are as naturalistic as the fields of grass. Cristiano and Mattia di Pierro, who plays the mysterious boy in the pit, are simply wonderful. Finally, it’s to Salvatores’ credit that he’s managed to combine a glorious paean to childhood with the wrenching pain of Childhood’s end. (William Bucks)

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Luck is. indeed. a lady tonight in this neat little American independent film. Until she turns up. William H Macy's gimpy- legged loser Bernie Lootx is all out of luck. Which is good busmess for Alec Baldwin's old school Las Vegas casino boss. Shelly Kaplow. who exploits Lootz's infectious bad luck to manage the card tables and crap shoots to his advantage. But when cocktail waitress Natalie Belisario (Maria Bellol walks into Lootz's miserable life. the guy falls in love. finds happiness and shakes off his bad karma. Which spells ill fortune for tough guy Shelly. Co-writer director Wayne Kramer's debut plays on a series of clever. humorous ironies wherein one indIVidual's misfortune becomes the good luck of another. Kramer envisions the gambling capital as the Mecca of bad luck. Here

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everyone experiences it. from Lootz not getting cream for his coffee to Shelly being forced to get With the times and modernise his beloved casino (named. inappropriately. the Shangri-La. after the utopian City in the Frank Capra clasSic The Lost Horizon) to lounge bar crooner Buddy Stafford (Paul SorVino. in a poignant cameo) finally. teriiiénally succumbing to his jllllk addiction.

The Cooler also plays on the notion of lovers making their own luck. and Kramer pulls off that trick Without dealing a cliched deck. That's largely because the romance between Loot/ and Natalie. unlikely as it is. is shot through with the passion and desperation of a

couple of life's no hopers. Macy.

Belle and Baldwin all score high in the leads. and it's great to see character actor Macy in some really quite raunchy love scenes. (Miles Fielder)

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Alastair Fothergill. the former head of BBC Television's Natural HistOry Unit. has already produced two of the best series of recent years Life in tlie Freezer and Blue Planet. Now as director he brings Deep Blue (which incorporates some of Blue Planet) to Cinemas and in feature-length format those pictures that looked impressive on TV are almost Superlative-defying in their beauty and scale on the big screen.

Michael Gambon's narration is wisely kept to a minimum as uninterrupted incredulity is our natural response to what we see. particularly when bearing Witness to some of the most frightening things ever to lurk in the dark HR Giger's Visions in the flesh. all skeletal raw and translucent.

With the intimacy of the photography and editing rendering each encounter almost personal. even the most extreme feels accessible. making for an emotional and absorbing film.

The ongoing battle for survival in the world's oceans is jOyOUS when won and galling when lost helplessly watching a mother grey whale trying to protect her calf is deeply upsetting. and any fond memOry of Free Willy Will be blown out the water as yOU watch killer whales prove that mindless cruelty is not a human prerogative.

Although the images alone are extraOrdinary. the soaring score from George Fenton With the Berlin Philharmonic turns this into a kinetic. exhilaiating and genuinely unmissable experience.

The only flaw of this stunning film is that it's unfairly short at ar0und 83 minutes. but there isn't a wasted frame in that time. (Adele Hartley)

I Selected release from Fri 7 8 Jun.

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