Beautiful, introspective, yet emotionally jarring – all words that can describe Gianni Amelio’s film “Le chiavi di casa.” This challenging yet heart-warming film invites audiences to relate to the difficulties of having a disabled child from both the perspective of the disabled child and that of the parents who raise him. The plot depicts a story of a young boy, Paolo , who meets his father, Gianni, for the first time when he is 15 years old. The twist, however, is that Paolo is physically disabled and seemingly autistic yet at the opening of the film the audience has no idea why the father has waited 15 years to meet his son. The film is an emotional journey that truly lets the audience feel the pain and anxiety parents can face when their children are born with disabilities. The film, containing many interesting situations and symbolism, most interestingly portrays the themes of the quest for “normalcy” and the difficulties of raising a disabled child through the view point of each character.
What is considered to be “normal” in life is almost always subjective; however, in this film we see the father, Gianni, struggle with the desire for a normal relationship with his 15 year old son. When the father first meets Paolo he acts awkward (as if meeting your son for the first time would not have been awkward enough, he has to also deal with a disability that he does not seem to be familiar with). Paolo, comfortable in his “self,” is relaxed as can be and perfectly content to play his game boy; retreating into his own world. The father seems so eager to get to know his son that the audience may at first have difficulty imagining why such a nice man has waited so long to reunite with him. This, in turn, generates great interest in the beginning of the film, leaving the audience anticipating the development of this question. The rest of the film is spent unraveling their unusual father son relationship as Gianni is forced to cope with his son’s difficult situation and make attempts to “make it better.”
Givovanni’s perception of “make it better” is an attempt to “make his son normal” or without a disability. He constantly rejects the notion that his son is not going to be able to lead a normal life. Some pertinent examples of this are when he decides to cease Paolo’s treatment at the hospital and whisk him away to
The father’s dream of a “child that could have been” is crushed in the final scene of the film. They are driving together after a very touching scene where Paolo agrees to come live with his father and his new family (again, the father attempting to provide Paolo with a “normal life”). Paolo begins to misbehave in the car, constantly honking the horn and pulling the wheel. Gianni is shaken into reality and grasps to understand why Paolo cannot just “behave normally.” In his frustration Gianni pulls over and leaves the car in tears. Paolo reverts back to his “comfort behavior” of repeating his address and phone number. It is in that moment that Gianni concedes and accepts Paolo for who he is (and how he always will be). Gianni hugs Paolo, who is desperately trying to comfort his father, and says he is alright as the camera fades to black.
Through the difficulty of the father-son relationship the audience truly gets a feeling of anguish felt by a parent who has a child with a disability such as autism. Many people may not realize it is more strenuous on the parent than it is for the “less than perfect” child. Gianni’s struggle is magnified as he is constantly contrasted with Nadine’s mother who is seemingly calm in the face of the day to day difficulties with her daughter. However, Nadine’s mother’s tranquility comes shockingly to a head at the train station talking to Gianni. In this scene, one of the most powerful moments in the film, Nadine’s mother is staring at nothing in the train station, on the verge of tears, after having spoken with Gianni of the difficulty of taking care of her daughter. She summarizes this sentiment in a simple line when she describes how sometimes her daughter just stares at her in desperation and she thinks “perché non muere?” or “why doesn’t she just die?” It is in this moment that the film truly captures the essence of the struggle that parents face of caring for a child with a disability. The scene empathetically allows the audience to feel the parents’ struggles. There is often a grieving period for the parents who must reconcile their notion of the “child they dreamed they would have” with the child they have in actuality. We get a contrasting perspective from the children in the film, however, who show the audience they are almost unaware of their situation. Children such as Paolo tend to be carefree and innocent due to their unawareness of their disability.
The insight of “Le chiavi di casa” is truly inspiring and touching with themes depicted throughout the film that allow the audience to become close to the characters and their difficulties. The film is moving regardless if the audience takes it at face value as a dramatic story of a father and son reuniting or if they read deeper into the subtleties of the symbolism and artistic depth that Amelio so adeptly provides regarding raising a child with autism. Bravo to the director for boldly showing the realistic, yet difficult challenges of this unique father-son relationship.
>More information from IMDB
>Movie Reviews (Italian and English)