Alone With Her Dreams is the first feature from Italian director Paolo Licata. It is a coming-of-age story adapted from a book by Catena Fiorello, who co-wrote the screenplay, and it has already received praise and a few prizes in its home country.
We follow Lucia (Marta Castiglia), an eleven-year-old living with her strict grandmother, Maria (Lucia Sardo), after her parents left to find work abroad. Although she knows her parents did so to provide a better life for all of them, Lucia feels abandoned, lonely, and unloved. It does not help that she resides in a small Sicilian seaside town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and there is not much to do but the annoying chores her grandma dictates her to do. The relationship between the two family members is not an easy one.
“…there is not much Lucia can do but rebel, which she does.”
We can see the older woman is deeply caring for her granddaughter but is hard on her in order to educate her the only way she knows how: “the old way,” meaning a “good beating,” some daily threats, and borderline emotionally abusing the young girl. But the film is set “back in the day” where this was common practice, so there is not much Lucia can do but rebel, which she does. The girl does exactly what she was told not to do and befriend an older cousin, whom she is forbidden to speak to, along with the other estranged family members. Lucia doesn’t know why but we can tell something happened in a movie heavy on secrecy and family secrets.
It unfolds like a typical “youngster having a hard time growing up in tough times” film set in what could be a cliche of small Italian village life with the Mediterranean background, markets full of food, people being the most dramatic, and traditions as religion. It can be a lot at times and might make viewers roll their eyes often, but from the first shot, one gets a sense that this is going to be everything but subtle. Then, out of nowhere comes a twist that really did not introduce itself properly!
It makes the movie dramatically change tone and subject. For a good half, Alone With Her Dreams announces itself as a lighter family-friendly drama centered on Lucia, with some sad subplots, though. The film then becomes something else entirely, which for better or worse, makes it more interesting in its depiction of how terrible things can happen out of the blue. That being said, it also highlights how uneven the movie is and how the filmmaker did not know what rhythm to dance to as the tonal shifts between scenes are quite abrupt.
"…will surely please those relating to this way of life..."