Film: Strong female cast propel 'Picciridda' to success

 ROME – How many families have deeply hidden secrets waiting to be uncovered? That’s the essence of a new film by Italian filmmaker Paolo Licata, who makes his directorial debut with Picciridda con i piedi nella sabbia. It is a big screen adaptation of Catena Fiorello’s book of the same name.

 The subterfuge concerns a young girl who is tormented by feelings of loneliness and abandonment when her family emigrates from the Sicilian island of Favignana to France, leaving her behind.

 Entrusted to her grandmother, Maria (Lucia Sardo), 11-year-old Lucia (Marta Castiglia) rebels against the matriarch’s tough love approach. Forbidden to associate with certain relatives, the pre-adolescent’s stubbornness and curiosity steer her into a grown-up world she’s ill equipped to handle. Lucia unwittingly stumbles onto a dark secret that inextricably connects her with her grandmother in a way she could never have imagined.

 Despite a small budget of 800,000 euros, Picciridda (released under the English title Alone with her Dreams) has already made waves on the festival circuit. 

 It saw Licata and Fiorello receive the Best Screenplay award at the 2019 Taormina Film Festival, garnering special mentions for the performances of Sardo and Castiglia.

 It was also at that festival that Licata found himself rubbing shoulders with multi Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone. “[When] I told him I made Picciridda, he took my hand and said, ‘Oh, you should be proud, you should be proud. It’s fantastic!’” Licata said, speaking to international journalists via a live-streamed press conference.

 Stone also praised lead actress Sardo, comparing her performance to that of the late Hollywood actor, Anthony Quinn.

 “He said I elicited the same emotions in him as when he saw Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek,” Sardo said. 

 The seasoned actress adds gravitas to the role of nonna Maria, who reins in her granddaughter with draconian punishment while conveying the underlying pain that belies the widow’s tough exterior. 

 The role is one Sardo could easily relate to. As a child she recalls being left in the care of her own grandmother, who, like nonna Maria, never remarried after being widowed at the age of 28. 

 According to Sardo, in southern Italy in the 1960s and 1970s a woman who lived alone had to fiercely protect her reputation.

 “I know these women who have remained alone all their lives. They had to fight to earn respect and dignity.” 

 Licata was uncompromising in his search for a young actress to play the title role of Picciridda (which means “little girl”).

 “I didn’t want to settle [for just anyone],” he said. “She had to be special.” 

 So dogged was Licata in his quest to find a Sicilian girl that he limited himself to seeking the best person for the role who hailed from the Mediterranean island at the heel of Italy.

 After considering some 500 to 600 children, he still encountered a number of obstacles, having narrowed the field to his top three. While his preferred choice, Castiglia, was reciting lines with perfect Italian diction, she couldn’t understand – much less speak – the regional dialect. In the end though, she won the part because she was a “remarkably fast” learner.

 Castiglia gives a touching portrayal of the innocent, curious and rebellious young girl on the cusp of womanhood.

 “Marta was born for this role,” Sardo said, adding that the young actress possesses a sensitivity and extraordinary intelligence.

 “I’ve worked on many films with kids and with kids there can be difficulties [but] with her I worked better than with many adult co-stars.”

 Sardo senses the same star quality in Marta that she observed in another child co-star who shot to Hollywood fame.

 “I made a film with Penelope Cruz when she was very young. I saw her on set and I immediately thought, ‘here we have a number one, she has what it takes,’” she said. “And I had exactly the same feeling with Marta.”

 Released theatrically on March 5, Picciridda was unfortunately forced to close three days later due to Covid-19. Now streaming is likely to give the film a new lease on life.



Marta Castiglia plays Lucia in 'Picciridda'
'Lucia' with 'nonna Maria' played by Lucia Sardo