The Thin Match Man (2009)

3 Sep

I am sometimes impatient with films that deal in the supposed wonder of childhood, as they often feature naïve protagonists who resemble sappy adult constructs of children more than any real kid I’ve ever met. It takes tact and maturity to deal with such material effectively, and films such as Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and Boy (2010) succeeded because they delved into the darkness that often underlies such stories. Employing a handcrafted kid’s-eye view of the world, Marco Chiarini’s The Thin Match Man tackles the difficult task of balancing such darkness with the fluffy lightness of more conventional child-focussed fantasy.

Narrated from a very skewed first-person perspective, the film centres on Simone (Marco Leonzi), an eleven-year old boy obsessed with the local folk-tale of the titular Match Man, a mythological creature who resembles a beardless Abraham Lincoln carrying a gigantic lit match. Clearly in mourning over his mother’s seemingly recent death, Simone seeks to see the Match Man with a single-minded devotion that is at once unsettling and —as we come to understand— an indication of his desire to evoke his mother’s presence in some way. Taking place during the summer of 1982 in a rural setting that —thanks to its remoteness— resembles the 1960s, Simone’s quest features a girl who phases in and out of existence (Anastasia Di Giuseppe), an uncle who speaks only through phonographs (Giuseppe Matu), and a gruff father who attempts to keep tabs on Simone by tying him up like livestock (Fanceso Pannofino), all of which add up to a narrative format that straddles the line between imagination, self-delusion and magic realism. Thanks to both the setting and perspective, we are only sometimes really aware of how and when Simone is dissociating and when he is existing in reality.

Chiarini is new to feature-length fiction, and it occasionally shows. The Thin Match Man displays some initially clunky exposition, superficial characterisation and inconsistent style, however Chiarini does manage to form a more coherent voice as the film progresses, culminating with a resolution that, while by no means entirely joyful, does reflect the healthy assumption of a life that moves on from loss. Definitely worth a look.

By Camilo Diaz Pino

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