Child actors are a bit hit and miss for me; I tend to cringe a bit when I think of the cheesiness of Haley Joel Osment and Macaulay Culkin (although I will admit that Home Alone 2 is still one of my favourite movies, especially the bit where Marv gets electrocuted and you see his skeleton). Even the Von Trapps rub me up the wrong way occasionally, and the Sound of Music is one of my favourite films. However, Kolya Spiridonov’s performance in The Italian is something else indeed.
Six year old Vanya (Spiridonov) is one of many parentless children at a run down Russian orphanage. He becomes the envy of his peers when an Italian couple visit the orphanage and decide to adopt him, and he is dubbed “the Italian”. Shortly afterward, a mother of another child who has just been adopted (read: sold by the gigantic leopard-print-clad Madam) turns up to claim her son, prompting Vanya to fear that his mother might one day come looking for him. He decides to seek her out for himself, and plans his escape from the orphanage.
Vanya is eminently likeable and resourceful in the first two thirds of the film, but it is not until the final scenes that we see that this kid has grit to burn.
The film is also a very clever one; there are a few comic and ironic touches which elevate it beyond a mere depiction. It unfolds against a background of starkness and poverty; any great strides Russia’s capitalist economy has made are indiscernible in Vanya’s world. The acting is very effective, especially that of Spiridonov, who carries the film on his four-foot high shoulders and manages to articulate something beyond what most six year olds would even understand. The Italian is one of the best films I’ve seen all year, so if you missed it at the Film Festival, here’s your chance to see it.