Reviewed by Dawn Davis
La Slitta (2016). Italy, 19 minutes. Directed by Emanuela Ponzano. Featuring: Riccardo Specchio, Ivan Franek, Emanuela Ponzano, and Alban Pajolli.
La Slitta (The Sled) is an Italian short film about an isolated boy named Alfred, who despite his parents’ neglect and pessimistic worldview, finds a moment of connection in an unexpected place.
Director Emanuela Ponzano has crafted a work of art with a relevant message of hope. Set in a remote mountain location, her camera briskly tracks the tumult of the small family inside their home. Bitterness and despair has set in, perhaps due to a suffering economy that the father (Ivan Franek) blames on an influx of immigrants. He angrily orders around his son, Alfred (Riccardo Specchio), refusing to let him venture into the village to play with other kids his age; the boy needs to finish his dinner, do his chores, and stay out of the way. Alfred’s mother (Emanuela Ponzano) is withdrawn, smoking in front of the television, and silently tolerating her husband’s outbursts. Alfred is left to his own devices, trapped in the house with his boredom, and feeling the lack of attention. I was reminded of Truffaut’s young protagonist in The 400 Blows—intelligent but restless and at the mercy of his sometimes loving, but often volatile, parents.
Ponzano has perfectly calibrated each element of her film. The cast of four is strong and convey their emotional lives with a minimum amount of dialogue. Ponzano, a lovely and experienced actor, as well as the co-writer/director/producer of this film, portrays Alfred’s reticent mother with a weariness that needs no words. Franek is her husband, who despite his anger, implies a decent man defeated by life. The two boys—Riccardo Specchio as Alfred and Alban Pajolli as The Foreign Boy—are utterly natural and compelling. The entire production is flawless in conception and execution.
While Ponzano has emphasized family dynamics and the complexity of immigration in her story, there is another beautiful element to the film, which is nature. Inside the house, camera movement is quick and hand-held. However, outside the home, there is a calm and steady regard of animal life and the wintery and rugged landscapes. Her environment is stunning and Ponzano instinctively captures the sense of peace that nature can provide to anyone who is experiencing inner turbulence. The cinematography, by Giuseppe Maio, enhances the timeless quality of both the charming yet claustrophobic house and the expansive Italian wilderness.
With nothing else to do, Alfred studies a drawing of tall trees in a book, tracing their outline with his fingers. He is pulled into a reverie that seems to call to him, and when his father isn’t looking, he escapes his room to run into the woods. Once outside, he’s hit with moments of freedom and joy, and these moments in the film affirmed to me how healing the natural world can be if we allow ourselves to interact with it.
In the woods, Alfred comes across a broken sled and an immigrant boy who claims ownership of the found prize. The film explores how prejudice can take root in those early, formative years, but Ponzano also imagines how these children would thrive in a world where cynicism and resignation had not taken hold. Her message is one of reconciliation and understanding; it’s a vital glimpse of hope that speaks to the potential of our own time, if we can only find a way to meet the “other” as a potential friend instead of a foe.