Roberto De Paolis’s debut feature is an engaging tale of teenage abstinence and sexual attraction, held together by two likeable lead performances from Selene Caramazza and Simone Liberati. The pair sweat and simmer in each other’s company when free from the social and financial demands of their parents, but both must overcome assimilated prejudices to forge their respective autonomy. The film is generous to the authority figures who think they know best, but it doesn’t shy away from showing the pernicious effects that their actions can have on their children.
With shaven head and permanent vest, Stefano (Liberati) strikes a persecuted figure. His expression is often one of wrenched pain and weary disillusionment. He tries to play life straight – not easy in the economically deprived estates of inner city Rome, particularly with a newly evicted mother and father asking for money. We see how he loses his first job: he sprints down the street after a young girl, Agnese (Caramazza), who has stolen a mobile phone. Stefano is nominally a security guard, but after an initially aggressive confrontation he lets her go. We’re shown that the law abider and criminal are not who we might think.
Strictly religious Agnese, whose mother Marta (Barbora Bobulova) holds a damaging dominion over her, usually spends her days going to Bible school and tending to the gypsy community, bringing gifts and supplies from the church. Her mother – no stranger to punitive measures – pressures her into buying a chastity ring, which even the humorous but no less manipulative pastor Don Luca (Stefano Fresi) suggests some thinking time for. Only now Stefano has a new job as a parking attendant across from the gypsy campsite. He and Agnese will cross paths again – and the frisson lingers.
Caramazza is striking as the angelic, warm-hearted but curious teenager who starts to develop her sexual identity. Similarly, Liberati ably contrasts the awkward emotions of a testosterone-driven young man – reasonable at times, but more commonly quick to anger. De Paolis makes use of sun flares and handheld camera work to depict the burgeoning lovers’ tryst, and – bar an extreme allegation and exaggerated chase come the end – he creates a film of great subtlety and emotion. In many ways this is a unremarkable and unoriginal story, but by handling its characters with such care De Paolis produces a diptych of exceptional depth.
Cuori Puri (Pure Hearts)does not have a UK release date yet.
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