Sting Like a Bee – Raindance Film Festival 2024

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writers: Leone Balduzzi, Giorgia Pedini and Nicole Salotti

Director: Leone Balduzzi

Sting Like a Bee presents itself as a documentary which takes as its subject the iconic little three-wheeled Italian truck known as the Ape (bee in English). It seems you can drive and indeed own an Ape from an early age and the film focuses on a group of youngsters who are proud owners of them. Writers Giorgia Pedini and Nicole Salotti, along with director Leone Balduzzi, claim that the film is doing something special: giving voice to the dreams of youngsters in a remote part of rural Italy.

The film also claims that it’s doing something clever at the border of fiction and fact. In voiceover are told of the “thin limbo between what is true and what is not,” an image which suggests the writers have not fully grasped the meaning of limbo. As a conceit for the movie, it just doesn’t work. It tries to have it both ways, so the film opens with the coy disclaimer that all the facts and characters are true, “except for ones we’ve invented.” But what it means in fact is that we have to assume everything is fiction and not a very imaginative one at that. The unseen film makers go round recruiting from a bunch of kids who are barely into their teens, asking if they’d like to be in a film. The first section, ‘The Casting’, consists of awkward interviews with wannabe actors. Most are around 14 year old and are understandably naïve. They’re asked a series of leading questions – would they like to be in a film? Which type of character would they like to play? (“il protagonisto,” each answers without fail).

The questions become more exploitative – have they kissed a girl? Have they had sex? Do they know what AIDS is? We’re evidently meant to laugh at some of their naïve answers – AIDS, says one, is a type of Wifi. Another confidently replies that it’s an electronic cigarette.

What exactly is the point Leone and the writers are making? It never really becomes clear. While Sting Like a Bee is evidently meant to be playfully lighthearted, it leaves us with an uncomfortable sense that these young Italians – none of them professional actors – are being exploited for our entertainment.

So, for instance, a couple of the kids are engineered into a meet cute – the fourteen year old Manuel and an equally young teenager girl. He is scripted to invite her for a ride. They park and the camera pulls back from the stationary Ape as they kiss. Next we see Manuel alone at home anxiously looking up AIDS online and ringing for a doctor’s appointment – he’s heard you can catch it from ‘oral intercourse’.

There’s a would-be comic scene where he waits outside a doctor’s surgery with two middle aged woman who are talking about testing positive – they are, of course, talking about Covid. Most of the comedy is thus laboured.

Beyond this, the overall plot is daft. One youngster steals his father’s gun and takes his would-be girl friend for a ride into the countryside where they try shooting at things. Next thing you know, they stumble over the apparently dead body of a man. In the course of taking him back home and then driving him back to the woods to bury him, they discover the man is alive. In fact he’s on his way to his wedding. We hear him on his phone claiming he’s been attacked by wild boar. End of plot line.

Such is the humour of Sting Like a Bee. And it doesn’t ever get any better.

There are a couple of set pieces towards the end where the teenagers go to a funfair and then have a race. But it’s all thin stuff. The film maker Leone appears only as a behind-the-camera voice, but gives no reason for nosing around in the lives of these rural kids. It is a nasty film.

Sting Like a Bee is screening at the Raindance Film Festivalruns from 19 – 28 June in London cinemas.

Nasty little film

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