Monday, September 24, 2007

Beautiful, Introspective, Emtionally Jarring: "Le chiavi di casa" ("The Keys of the House")

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 Norway to meet his pen pal “girlfriend” Kristine. On the way to meet her, Gianni throws Paolo’s walking cane over the side of the boat, as if by doing so he can discard the disability. Moreover, Paolo almost fuels his father’s denial throughout the film when he gives glimmers of normal teenage boy behavior. On the boat to Norway, for example, he worries about what clothes he should wear to impress Kristine. His flirtation with “normal” behavior is always short lived, however, when he inevitably reverts to his behavioral difficulties as a result of his autism.

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.

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Emilio Di Concilio said...

I basically agree with Ms. Ficano's review of the film.My belief in her very good review is conciliated by my view and hers that it is very difficult to raise a disabled child and I also agree with her that Gianni,Paolo' father finally acceps him for what he is disabled. However I want to add on certain aspects of the film that Ms. Ficano has left out due to possible restrictions which I can not perceive: most of all the style used by Amelio in the shooting of this film. The most important feature of this style can be seen at the train station in which scene he makes use of characters in fusion with their surroundings as can be evidenced in the drowning of the voices of Gianni and Paolo by background noices. Furthermore I want to add that from the beginning I found the character of Gianni played by J. Rossi Stewart too polished, to calm and relaxed and to fair complexioned to portray the torment that he must have been going through.A darker complexioned actor might have portrayed that torment in a much stronger manner depicting in a better way the sadness within, which is part of the dark side of life.
My understanding of Amelio's use of close up shots reveals Amelio's intention to scrutinize the characters and their relevance in the scenes. In my mind his medium shots reinforce again the mixing by Amelio of characters and surroundings. All in all a powerful film to which I give it 4 stars.Emilio Di Concilio

H Jennings said...

Ms. Ficano's assesment of Keys to the House touches almost all of the points that I find important in the film. However, (SPOILER ALERT) I believe the end of the film where Paolo essentially explians that he will not be living with Gianni that he is not lacking in understanding of his limitations, or the difficulty of his relationship with his biological father. Paolo though not able to clearly articulate the reasons he could not live with Gianni, does understand that their relationship has been severely damaged by Gianni's absence. Paolo knows his father has abandoned him and though they like each other their relationship can never be what it could have been.

Piero said...

I interpreted this movie as a story of re-consideration and discoveries. Gianni is prompted to reconsider is parental role, to reconsider what is sickness and what is health and, of course, discover his son and himself. The spectators are called to make the same process while assisting at the role’s reversals throughout the movie: Paolo is calm in his hospital room while his father has to leave the room during a simple blood exam; Paolo feeds his father in the hotel room; Gianni has to be comforted by his son.
In this story, there is an aspect of denial and refuse; nonetheless, in my opinion, Gianni shows to be ready to accept Paolo’s condition at the beginning of the movie, when he accepts the great responsibility to make a “miracle” happen. Therefore, I have a different view of certain scenes, such the one in which Gianni drops Paolo’s cane in the water. It is an offer, not a refuse. Gianni communicates with this act that he is ready to help, to take the responsibilities and to accompany Paolo’s explorations.

judith said...

I agree with sficano in a lot of ways and I share her enthusiasm about this movie.
But one thing I do not fully agree with concerns the "neorealism" of the film (and that might clarify as well what I tried to point out during the lesson but did not really manage to do):
If we build on the fact that a realistic representation of a certain "world" - of a situation, of things happening - is not seperable from the way, the spectator perceives the movie (and - of course - every single person perceives the movie in a different way, but still, I think, we can and must talk of a certain effect or at least a tendencial effect a movie has on the spectator in general), so if we build on this fact, here is my problem with the definition of this film as neorealistic:
You love Gianni, Paolo's father right from the beginning and you never stop doing so during the whole movie, not, when we find out that he abandoned Paolo without ever having seen him, we love him, when he tries to make his son as he wants him to be (rejecting or ignoring the fact that his son is not "normal" and does not behave as his father would like him to behave) and we still love him in the end. (I think, that's getting close to what you said, emilio).
We love Nadine's mother even when she says that sometimes she wishes her daughter would die. Anyhow we love Paolo, annoying as he might be.
We love all the characters right from the beginning, and, yes, there is space for awkwardness and for the despair the protagonists are feeling and the spectator is thrown into these feelings - but what is missing, in my opinion, to make this film really realistic are the truly "bad" feelings, the feelings that are neglected, that are ignored in our "real" society and that are ignored in this reality, created by Amelio, as well.
Just for making me not misunderstood: I loved the film, I enjoyed it a lot, I find it a very deep, not at all superficial and very rich movie, but: there is that embellishment of the peoples' thoughts, actions, behaviours (maybe it's the camera that for example in the scene in which Nadine's mother expresses her deepest secret follows her view into nothingness and provoces a feeling of loneliness and despair that does not allow the spectator to feel anger or hate) that gives me the sensation that Amelio dares a lot in terms of neorealism, but he doesn't dare (or doesn't want) to take the last steps that would make the movie really and truly neorealistic.
(And here we go again, what is real and true neorealism - but I won't go deeper into this questions in this posting because I already surpassed a common comment's length...sorry bout that)

DMeador said...

The one thing that stood in my mind was the fact that both Gianni and Paolo were wearing sweatshirts at the end of the film. As I thought more and more about sweatshirts I thought of their comfort, there ease of use, and the feeling that comes with them. Then I tried to relate it to the whole movie. It probably came across the director of how he was going to make a movie on such a subject without scaring off the audience. To take the audience on such a journey, Amelio had to create a world of comfort.

The main way to make an audience feel comfortable is through aesthetic decisions. The decisions ranged from sounds, to colors, to locations. The sounds of the trains, cars, and the boat are like white noise, or white sound. They are repetitive and flow with ease into the viewers mind. Throughout the movie the colors are very cool, consisting of white and blue tones. This color range is very calming. The locations also had to be comfortable given the uncomfortable nature of the movie. The most comfortable location was the hotel. Hotels are always made to be comforting to the guest. Even though other locations, like the hospital, wouldn’t usually seem comforting, Paolo was at ease for most of his stay there, and the times that Paolo did feel uncomfortable Gianni was there for him.

Eric said...

The way this film pulled you in, with its realistic performances and sumptuous cinematography, really helped to shed light on an important topic. Kim Rossi Stuart is a semi-wooden actor but that was effective in showing his awkwardness upon meeting his son for the first time. What Charlotte Rampling does with one simple facial expression or a half smile is what actresses around the world should be looking up to, she was a highlight for me in watching this movie. An amazing actress. The topic hit close to home for me as I have a relative with downs syndrome and the way the movie was not over the top but quiet and realistic in its portrayal of everyday citizens dealing with this issue in their everyday lives I thought was really unique, all the way until the credits rolled.

AlonsoDelarte said...

Neorealist films such as this one are sometimes criticized of their use of child characters for to manipulatively tug at the heartstrings of the audience. This criticism, however, I think hardly applies to this film.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine (Roy Richard Grinker, "Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism" 357:310-311), there are 60 autistic children in every ten thousand liveborn children. It is safe to assume that similar numbers hold for the European Union. This means that many parents will have to deal with raising an autistic child, that this is a much more realistic concern than having to sneak into a green-hued building and having to shoot enough bullets to destroy marble columns, or having to skim the surface of a moon-sized space station to shoot into a 2-meter wide aperture in order to prevent the destruction of other planets.

I am wondering if this film, Le chiavi di casa, is autobiographical for the director, Gianni Amelio, as the biological father of Paolo is also called Gianni. Perhaps this is as much speculation as to wondering whether the father character in Dekalog I is autobiographical for Krzystof Kieślowski (he gives his own birthdate for another one of his characters, Witek in Przypadek (Joseph G. Kickasola, The Films of Krzysztof Kieslowski: The Liminal Image New York: Continuum (2004): 8 - 9))

CDAbrams said...

I agree with Eric in that the film's actors contributed greatly to the viewer's ability to be pulled in to the story. As Judith said, both Kim Rossi Stuart and Charlotte Rampling's character are so lovable, regardless of their obvious flaws. The most lovable character of all, however, is Paolo. Perhaps the strongest aspect of the film is the casting, in which Amelio used a differently- abled child for the part. Through the director's close working relationship with this child, we as viewers are allowed to see a very honest depiction of what his daily life is like. Although "Le chiavi di casa" does satisfy several requirements of neorealistic film, I believe it to be foolish to try to categorize this film only in those terms. Amelio incorporates many cinematic aspects, including but not exclusive to sound, camera work, wardrobe, etc. in order to compile a believable, often beautiful, almost always heart-wrenching film.

judith said...

cdabrams, I think you're absolutely right. (to try to categorize this film only in terms of neoralism)
convinced me.

judith said...

eeh, I mean you convinced me saying that it's foolish to categorize this film only in terms of neoralism..

SherrySantos said...

In class, we talked about how Gianni and Paolo being in Germany as opposed to Italy gives them a place where they can get to know each other while sharing the experience of being in an unfamiliar place. What I noticed is that by virtue of Paolo's condition, Gianni has the chance to go through the childhood milestones/rituals that cement a child's bond with the parent. Gianni helps Paolo go to the bathroom, takes a bath with him, feeds him, and tries to get him to walk on his own. The one thing that Gianni does with Paolo that acknowledges Paolo as a teenage boy is helping him meet a girl. By going through those experiences, Gianni is forced to see what he had missed out in abandoning Paolo. A father meeting his normal teenage son may not see this because he would be trying to bond with his abandoned son from a different perspective, dealing with his son as a young adult not as his child.

JamieF said...

This powerfully made piece has had a definite and lasting imapact on me. Having had experience in my life of taking care of children with emotional disabilities, I could relate to many aspects of the film on a very personal level. I feel one of the strongest implications of this film is its sensitive and accurate portrayal of life with a disabled person.

I also acknowledge and agree with SherrySantos's comment on Gianni's chance to almost relieve foundational milestones in Paolo's life, as he is a teenage boy with the emotional level of a young child (although he does have flashes of cognisance that remind us he is still a teenager, like his infatuation with Kristine, and the very introspective glances shared with the young boy on the playground, as examined in class).

One of the themes of this film that has resonated most with me is the idea of redemtion and forgiveness. Though Gianni could never make up for the grave injustice of denying Paolo a father for his childhood (which is never lost on Gianni, Paolo or the audience), it is with great tenderness and small mercies that Gianni attempts to reconcile his relationship with his estranged son.

One of the most moving ways Amelio portrays this is Gianni's (Kim Rossi Stuart) constant need to touch, hug and kiss his son. It is as if he tries to make up for all the lost opportunities to show his his love, and he is often shown tenderly brushing Paolo's hair from his face or kissing his forehead, gestures that moved me deeply (especially coming from a man who has only known his son for a couple of days).

While taking Paolo on a journey to meet his "girlfriend" could never replace the lost years with his father, it is Gianni's way (along with other loving gestures) of trying to steer their lives down a new course. He cannot give Paolo back what he denied him, but he can try to build a new life for them, and attempt to right his wrongs.

Heather Watson said...

One of the aspects of this film that I found particularly intriguing is the way that the director could make the audience feel comfortable in one moment, and then uncomfortable in the next. For example, scenes that portray the 'father/son bonding', such as when Gianni was helping Paolo write the email to his girlfriend, or even the near-final scene in which Gianni invites Paolo to live with him; these scenes offer the "happy ending" option to the audience. However these scenes are often followed by uncomfortable moments, not just for the characters involved, but also for the viewers. I think that this method of "bringing the audience back to reality" is a way of showing that life (especially life as portrayed in the cinema) does not always have a happy overtone. These darker moments provide a sense of realism to the film. Gianni is the perfect example of someone whose "happy" expectations of a situation (ie. his relationship with Paolo) comes crashing down because of the reality of the situation (in this case the limitations that Paolo has). Overall, I feel that this film provides a realistic look at many families who deal with this situation in the reality.

sficano said...

I wanted to first say, yes, of course I left things out!  If I included every interesting aspect of the film, this would be quite a long blog. I happened to focus on plot and character development because that was what was most interesting to me. I do appreciate the additional comments on other aspects of the film.

H jenning’s stated that Paolo could not go live with Gianni – to me that is not necessarily implied. Yes, any father-son relationship would be damaged from the father’s lack of presence, but Paolo’s case is quite unique. I believe it is due to his autism that he cannot fully express himself more so than because of their damaged relationship. I also believe (in reference to Piero’s comment) that Gianni has been offering to help from the start of the film, so the cane over the boat could be a point of discussion. I do know a lot of parents must go through a grieving process and I do not think at that point he has truly accepted his son’s autism.

I thought everyone had interesting and insightful comments and I couldn’t possibly respond to them all. But I am excited that everyone has taken such interest in this film. I truly believe it is an important contribution to the notion and awareness of autism.