Director: Victoria Fiore
Director Victoria Fiore has talked elsewhere of the extraordinary emergence of her documentary, Nascondino (Hide and Seek) from an open-ended project running a series of workshops with street kids in Naples over six years. The resulting film is astonishing – tender, intimate, often funny but ultimately tragic.
It centres on a deprived area of Naples, Quarteri Spagnoli, traditionally associated with poverty and crime. Fiore focuses on a young lad, Entoni – nine years old when filming starts – who wants to be an actor. Despite being an absolute natural in front of the camera – unselfconsciously cheeky and charming – his card is already marked. He’s a Spanish Quarter street kid with a father in prison. His grandmother Dora, watches out for him, but is pessimistic. Her own husband died in prison, leaving her at 23 with three children. Dora talks proudly of managing to put food on the table. “I was a warrior,” she says, “the first young woman to make money fast.” Fiore tactfully avoids spelling out how she did so.
Entoni’s own father has gone the same way. There’s a touching scene where Entico and his friend Dylan swap details of their respective fathers’ prisons. “Do you have to talk to him behind glass?” Entico politely asks. Meanwhile the friends try anything to make a quick buck, but nothing much works. They often sit around bored, playing with their finger spinners. Entoni says his favourite place is Piazza Montecalvario – “it’s the only place where we can play.”
Beautifully shot in and around Naples by cinematographer Alfredo de Juan, we see a collage of telling images from the district: washing lines hang across steep lanes while kids cruise around on scooters or play in derelict yards. Dora frets that Entoni is always out there. We see him looking cool in a tiny leather jacket and stylish hair cut, hanging out with the other kids. Back in the apartment, chubby little brother Gaetano works earnestly with a hairbrush in front of the mirror, trying to imitate his brother’s look.
Gradually the context of the story emerges. The authorities are cracking down on youth crime in an effort to break the cycle of Camorra-led violence. They announce plans to remove legal guardianship for parents linked to organised crime. Entoni’s behaviour, as far as we can see, is no worse than that of other kids, more the restless mischief of a kid who is learning there’s no real future for any of them. He is articulate about his hatred of guns. Nonetheless, given his family background, the carabineri are onto him.
A fire which Entoni may or may not have started gets him arrested and sent to Nisida, the notorious juvenile detention centre on the bay of Naples. It’s not long before he escapes and makes his way home. Asked by Dylan where he’d been hiding, Entoni says enigmatically “a secret place.” His grandmother, listlessly smoking, reports “We took him back and he escaped and escaped.” Back at Entoni’s family apartment, we get intimate glimpses of family life. His mother Natalia doing her nails or taking selfies; her partner cooking up a huge pan of risotto, which Entoni refuses to eat because it hasn’t got lemon on it; Entoni and Gaetono playfully squabbling and hugging. Fiore conveys extraordinary warmth through these. There are a few over-stylised scenes, such as the one in imagining Entino’s dream following an escape. One detail, nonetheless, is heart-breaking, Entino’s longing for home and the familiar scent of bedsheets.
There is a fascinating theme running through Nascondino about faith and beliefs: what, after all, have these families got to believe in? A succession of religious processions pass along Entoni’s street. He doesn’t believe in religion, he tells us in voice over. But he’s convinced the Madonna – “although she’s dead” – is watching them right now. Dora blesses herself before turning to her carte degli angeli – her traditional Italian tarot cards, seeking answers.
The film follows Entoni for six years and we’re right behind him all the time. Only in the closing credits do we learn the poignant truth behind his release from Nisida. And what about chubby little Gaetono, last seen scrambling up some scaffolding? “A file has been opened on him,” we are told: the cycle is set to repeat.
Nascondino is released in cinemas on 20 January 2023.