“You can’t fool the ants”
A trio of short films by Italian director Andrea Lodovichetti screened during the 2010 Buffalo Niagara Film Festival. His latest, from 2007, is the Babelgum award-winning Sotto il mio giardino [Under My Garden], which I’m sure went a long way in him receiving the Best Shot Film award at the festival. Based on a story by Roberto Santini, the film concerns a young boy with a fascination for ants and how they always work as a collective for their queen, even risking their own lives for the benefit of the group. During his studies of the creatures, he discovers some turned dirt in his background, an area where an anthill has formed into the boy’s garden. Piquing his interest, Marco remembers how the neighbor’s wife has not been seen in some time. Sneaking over the fence to take a look inside the house, he finds a naked young woman walking about, causing him to believe the man has murdered his wife and buried her under his garden.
Marco’s own mother is absent, recently moved to America, and so he is alone for the moment with his father and nanny, exploring the grounds while Dad is at work, delving into his research books and playing with his friend Sara. Uninterested in ants, Sara is more inclined to flirt with the boy, at one point even telling him what kind of underwear she is wearing. He, being only eight, shrugs off these advances and begins to concoct his theory of homicide, wondering what he can do to prove it. Just as ambivalent about the ants, Sara could care less about his unfounded hypotheses, tending to ignore his talking about those subjects until he either stops or leaves. But the temptation to turn this man into the authorities—a man he feels is bad because of the way his father won’t greet him despite his mother always having smiled hello—is too great, leading Marco to not only write a letter telling the neighbor he knows what was buried under the ant’s nest, but also a diagram and note to the police, requesting them to come and investigate.
Alessandra Pellegrino and Stefano Bottone are both fantastic as the children, playing their roles perfectly despite no formal training. Lodovichetti even says in behind the scenes footage that he was surprised at how well Bottone knew when and where to act, timing his actions without the need of direction or multiple takes. One scene was actually changed on request of the children, knowing how the instance should be played out and proving to be correct. Bottone is wonderfully accessible in a role that is simply a curious boy who idolizes his father and adopts his outlooks on life. He watches the ants, unafraid to die for their queen, and decides to be brave himself, risking his own innocence to capture the criminal and solve the crime he knows has been done—if his father doesn’t trust this man, than he shouldn’t either. But above all else, you see the love he holds for his mother, missing her and yet excited to hear about America, even though she left without saying goodbye. When the police do finally come in response to his letters, the policewoman in charge talks to the boy with a maternal understanding; he opens up to her and revels in that female figure of compassionate authority he has been missing.
Besides the acting and some wonderfully shot compositions—from the half-clothed neighbor spied on through a window, interesting angles used for simple shots like Bottone sticking a letter in a mailbox, and, a rarity of late, allowing two characters to exist in frame during a conversation rather than cutting back and forth to reaction shots—the story itself is what sticks in your memory after the credits roll. Throughout the entire endeavor, you begin to wonder how far the game Marco plays will go. Will the neighbor forgive him for his accusations, will he angrily seek revenge like the harsh faces he makes at the boy infer, or did he perhaps actually do what the boy thinks? Rather than necessarily answer these questions straight out, Lodovichetti and company decide to subtly uncover the truth to what is going on, proving how the boy may be correct in his wild imagination, but perhaps getting the victim and culprit wrong. Answers to his past are revealed and the gravity of what his investigations lead to is a welcome surprise, making what I assumed would be a funny anecdotal conclusion to the seriousness of his imagination even more dire and contemplative than I ever would have thought.
Sotto il mio giardino [Under My Garden] 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½
Watch the film for yourself at Babelgum by clicking here.