The story that inspired “Selfie” is all too familiar: a policeman shot an unarmed 17-year-old boy Davide Bifolco to death and then claimed to have confused him with someone else. Director Agostino Ferrente decided to participate in the healing process after this tragedy by giving Davide’s friends in the Rione Traiano neighborhood of Naples a camera so they could make a film about their lives. What followed was a heart-rending documentary about growing up with limited choices and a very refreshing take on the subject of Camorra’s influence on Naples.
The two boys at the center of the film, Pietro and Alessandro, are really sweet, charismatic kids, who are struggling with their transition to adulthood. Alessandro is a delivery boy for a coffee shop, Pietro has no job but aspires to be a barber, and the two are trying their best to avoid being sucked into the criminal underbelly that surrounds them from all sides. As we spend more time with them, we learn about Pietro’s eating disorder that stems from his recent trauma, and the endearing way that Alessandro helps him deal with body dysmorphia. We also see the city through the points of view of some other teens and tweens, like girls discussing what it’s like to be married to someone doing time in prison, or two scrawny hood rats pestering the film’s crew for smokes. Those glimpses and characters form a much more complete portrait of Naples than any fiction ever could.
And then, there’s the question of art. Pietro especially is concerned with making the documentary artful. He insists on using classical music instead of something more contemporary, poses while reclining on a luxurious bed like an odalisque in a renaissance painting, and proclaims that “you can’t only show the good parts in a documentary.” And then, because he’s a teenager, or because he has the sensibility of a young Hal Hartley, Pietro films himself sitting on the toilet, as we hear something splash in the bowl. This meta feeling makes the movie even more heartbreaking because it bares the boys’ creativity, potential, and vulnerability even more.
Director: Agostino Ferrente
For more content like this sign up for our weekly newsletter