Shadows: the review

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Five years ago, with Arianna, sensitive and courageous film about the search for a gender identity, Carlo Lavagna he had shown an appreciable desire to tell unusual stories in the panorama of Italian cinema. Today the Roman director confirms the qualities glimpsed in that beautiful debut staging with Shadows – a co-production with Ireland in English, designed for the foreign market but with an Italian heart and brain – a script written by others. Among the main advantages of this captivating and curious little film there is above all that of not imitating the charms and stylistic features of overseas genre cinema, but of trying to rewrite it according to one’s own optics and cultural sensitivity. Shadows begins as one of the many dystopian stories of survival in a post-apocalyptic world, then shifts the focus to the rebellion, growth and emancipation of two teenage daughters dominated by a mother too protective and punitive, to become something different again , in one final waste which will surprise many. And even if at a certain point one could guess the destination of the journey it doesn’t matter, because the path to get there is fascinating and convincing, thanks mainly to Lavagna’s expertise in convincing us to follow him and to the skill of his interpreters.

The story, without spoilers, is that of two little girls, Alma the eldest, more shy and insecure, and Alex, a little smaller but strong-willed and curious. They live in the middle of a forest, as in fairy tales, in a large abandoned hotel, with their mother who is often absent to go hunting and has taught them what is necessary for survival, from botany to hunting, without ever letting them go out alone if not with her, and at night. In fact, there is no one out there and the girls have never seen another human being, except through images. Alma writes cards hoping to find other survivors, paints the walls with natural colors with city representations that she does not know, she is afraid of the sunlight and has strange nightmares. Nothing seems to change in a life that is the only one they have ever known, until an excessive punishment of the mother for their disobedience triggers a crisis and the girls leave the shelter to cross the river, a border that has always been forbidden.

I’m many the keys to reading possible for the film, starting with the title itself which alludes to shadows of Jungian psychoanalysis, that is, to the dark and unacceptable faces of the self. The analytical reading is also applicable to the theme of double, with the girls who are the opposite of each other and complement each other, and to the relationships with the mother figure. But Shadows, where the denied light is the symbol of lost rationality, although it lends itself to this kind of reading, it still remains an enjoyable genre film as such. He manages to bring us into a world, in the credible however bizarre habitat built by a woman for her offspring, shows us its inhabitants who live according to atavistic principles: they could be three witches, in tune with nature, out of time and space , without any need for civilization and the male counterpart. But Alma has grown up, she has had her first period, and this universe is no longer enough for her, even if the world outside is scary. Because even if she doesn’t meet the big bad wolf in the woods, who knows what awaits her at her grandmother’s house.

We don’t know if Shadows was shot in sequence, it’s unlikely but we like to think so. Because it seems to happen as we see it, the protagonists in the development of the story are so natural, involved and convincing. Curated in the shots and attentive to details, it is one of those films of atmosphere, colors and sounds in which you don’t have time to stop and think about this or that incongruity, because you enter it. Merit, as we said, of the director and the technical department of the film, from costumes to photography to sound, but perhaps above all of the three actresses chosen for the roles, from the veteran, rude and ferocious but also sweet and protective Saskia Reeves, perfectly ambiguous in the role of mother-monster (which mother is not, for a teenage daughter?) to the rebellious and strong-willed Alex of Lola Petticrew. Even if it is above all Mia Threapleton to impose himself with a powerful and multifaceted performance, in which he demonstrates great expressiveness and the ability to transform himself even physically and get in tune with the character to make him real in the eyes of the beholder. At his second film after making his debut with mom Kate Winslet, at thirteen, in The rules of chaos, threatens right now to oust the parent from the throne.

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