Review: California – Cineuropa

– VENICE 2021: Alessandro Cassigoli and Casey Kauffman’s first fiction film speaks of a Moroccan youth’s courage, solitude and attempts at integration in the Neapolitan hinterland

Khadija Jaafari in California

Having already made two documentaries together, Alessandro Cassigoli and Casey Kauffman (The Things We Keep [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, Butterfly [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
) have now made the leap to fiction, albeit retaining a highly realistic style. The duo presented their latest work California [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
at the 18th Giornate degli Autori, offering up the only Italian title to feature in competition this year within the Venice Film Festival’s independent section. The film was shot over a five-year period and follows the trajectory of a Moroccan youth as she tries to fit into the Neapolitan hinterland town of Torre Annunziata, buffeted by dreams, disappointment, solitude and a split identity.

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California is a spin-off, of sorts, from the directorial duo’s previous documentary (Butterfly), which was dedicated to the boxing champion Irma Testa who won bronze at the recent Tokyo Olympic Games. It was in that 2018 film that our smart and determined North African child, who dreamed of becoming a boxer herself, just like Irma, appeared for the very first time, for just a few minutes. Cassigoli and Kauffman subsequently had the idea of filming her from the age of 9 to 14 years old, building up a narrative around her which would wholly revolve around the true story of her life, and then adding elements of fiction and mise en scene (the screenplay was written in league with Vanessa Picciarelli, the co-author of Bangla, among other titles). Consequently, that child by the name of Khadija Jaafari became Jamila, the star of California.

Jamila is a little girl originally from Morocco who has lived with her family in Torre Annunziata, on the outskirts of Naples, since she was seven years old. Her future plan is to become a world champion and a hairdresser. But she has a strained relationship with her peers, tending to cut herself off from others, and for this reason she wishes to return to Morocco, where she has friends and feels more at home, as opposed to her sister Angelica (catering Jaafari), who has successfully integrated herself into local life and accuses her little sister of running away from everyone. Jamila begins to skip school, she fights with her classmates, and her parents are totally absent. In order to pay her way to Morocco, she tries to drum up money as a mobile hair-washer and by delivering shopping to elderly ladies. But it’s a goal which also distances her from the gym to the point she ends up no longer training.

However, until she reaches 15 years of age, Jamila is unable to travel without her parents’ consent. And so, some time later, we find her working as a trainee hairdresser, happy to earn the bit of cash she needs to buy herself a mobile and a moped. There’s also a boy she likes, but, once again, circumstances prevent her from satisfying her desires. Social workers are also beginning to raise their heads, because the girl is 13 years of age and should be going to school in the mornings rather than working.

Shot like a documentary and following the ebb and flow of a young person’s life without wanting to drive home any particular message, the film moves between dreams, frustrations and the search for one’s place in the world. Owing to a mistake on the part of the sign maker, “Californie” is the name of the beauty salon where Jamila works, and not “California” as it actually should be. It’s symbolic of the many imperfections and deviations which are a part of life and which our young warrior Jamila has to contend with during her difficult journey to adulthood.

California is produced by Ang Film together with RAI Cinema and in co-production with La Mansarde Cinéma. International sales are in the hands of Fandango.

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(Translated from Italian)