When I was introduced to Niccolo Ammaniti and Gabriele Salvatores’ I’m Not Scared – Io Non Ho Paura – my fascination with Italian films, filled with bravado and romance and majestic scene-setting, was renewed.
I’ve read a few translations of original Italian texts and continue to enjoy the texture of words and the lyrical dialogue between original Italian characters. I read Niccolo Ammaniti’s original novel long before watching the Disney-produced film, and found that I could make a few comparisons between text and film. I found some differences, but they weren’t bad.
The attempted rape of the protagonist’s mother is not graphically depicted in the film as it was done in the novel. Also, characterisation of the story’s main villain differed entirely from the original narrative.
But Niccolo Ammaniti originally constructed his story so that it could be adapted for the screen. And the film was written, produced and directed by Salvatores almost two years after the book’s first publication in 2001.
Keeping the story’s themes of knowledge, awareness, fear and courage, trust and betrayal intact, Salvatore’s direction is a faithful adaptation of the original novel. This was possible because of Ammaniti’s collaboration with his co-writer, Francesca Marciano. Both film and text become a mirror image of Ammaniti’s original concept.
The film’s deviation in places is understandable in light of the Disney production company’s family-oriented audience. The graphic depiction of the attempted rape of Michele Amritrano’s mother is not entirely violent in its original form.The story’s protagonist, through a complex voice-over narrative scheme, explains his recollection of his mother’s ordeal as an adult.
On screen, the ring-leader of an inept, small town gang, Sergio Materia, differs vastly from the original text. In the novel, he is thin, unkempt and middle-aged and does not appear to threaten the boy too much. Through the film’s mis-en-scene the antagonist is shown as a bumbling, over-weight villain who never menaces a twenty-first century audience.
While the text refers to the villain sympathetically as an “old man”, the same effect is created on screen.
Such differences in characterisation from text in the film’s mis-en-scene are necessary for creating a startling visual impact. In the event, it succeeds in creating a villainous character who is never as threatening as he appears in the novel. His dramatic role physically highlights the gang’s stupidity in dealing with a kidnapping affair.
I enjoyed the novel’s ending. We never know whether the boy dies, or will die. We only know that he faints. Through showing, not telling, the novelist allows the reader to decide Michele’s outcome and the fate of his father who is part of the gang of kidnappers.
The film’s dramatic ending is more effective in foregrounding the boy’s heroism in overcoming fear through bravery and correct moral behaviour. In the film, much like the dead Christ being held in His mother’s arms, the boy is held by his father after being shot accidentally. In this scene the boy’s father asks for forgiveness from his criminal and cowardly actions.
Such an ending is true to the form of a family-oriented story.