Sometimes you miss a movie when it first comes out, but when it finally lands on your radar, how delightful it can be! Thus is the case with the Italian film Asino Vola. Released in 2015, Donkey Flies is one of those rare movies that can be enjoyed by the entire family.
ASINO VOLA – DONKEY FLIES – THE STORY
Donkey Flies tells the story of an energetic little boy growing up in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Reggio Calabria in Southern Italy. Left to his own devices, he plays with objects he finds in a dry riverbed used as a local dump, converses with a wise donkey and argues with a rather malicious hen. The piccolo Maurizio doesn’t want for imagination. One day, he gets the idea in his head to join the local band, but his parents can’t afford the music book, no less the purchase of an instrument.
Little Maurizio is not to be stopped. His simple determination to be part of something so basic and the ways he goes about reaching his goal, his ups and his downs, are touching. The film gives a brief glimpse of a world with seemingly insurmountable challenges, that when faced head on, manage to be overcome. A little bit of a fantasy? Absolutely. Maurizio talks with an even-tempered donkey, who doles out advice like a benevolent grandfather, and a quarrelsome hen, like a spiteful aunt always on the attack. He befriends the local gypsies and his sheer strength of character gains the admiration and friendship of those around him. The movie is rated PG, although I’m not sure why a child would need guidance, except perhaps to read the subtitles.
MARCELLO FONTE AND ARCHI, REGGIO CALABRIA, CALABRIA
The film is largely autobiographical, based on Marcello Fonte’s childhood growing up in Archi, a neighborhood north of Reggio Calabria’s historic center in southern Calabria. Music was important for Fonte and his friends, and in the following historic photo, the rather small Marcello can be seen playing the snare drum in the town band.
As with the young protagonist in the film, Archi has had its ups and downs, with a history that has left behind a Hellenistic necropolis, a climate that favors agricultural production, including the region’s famous bergamot, and a housing project where numerous ‘ndrangheta killings took place in the 1980s.
The criminal element has nothing to do with the film but may give a bit of context for the formative years of Marcello Fonte (b. 1978), one of the writers, together with fellow calabrese Paolo Tripodi (both of whom also directed the movie) and Giuliano Miniati. Interestingly, Fonte is quoted as saying in an interview with Italian RAI television, “We are what we choose to be in life.”
His simple, genuine manner has won the hearts of Calabrians as well as the greater Italian community. Fonte walks the red carpet accompanied by his mother. Upon receiving the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor in 2018 for his leading role in the crime drama Dogman, he reflected on his childhood, “We lived in a junkyard, and when I heard the sound of rain on the shack’s metal roof, I imagined it to be the applause of an audience.”
DONKEY FLIES – THE CAST
Marcello Fonte goes through quite the makeup transformation and skillfully plays four different parts in Donkey Flies. Francesco Tramontana is excellent in the role of the young Maurizio, as are the voices of the hen, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, the donkey, interpreted by the always enjoyable comic actor Lino Banfi, the narrator and the supporting cast.
Locals are featured in principal roles, such as Antonello Pensabene, who brings a sincere warmth as the music teacher Maestro Angelo. Childhood friends returned to play in the band, and their children took up roles as little Maurizio’s music mates.
And of course, the local band from Archi plays its part, all contributing to a straightforward, sincere authenticity in a film that bounces along with a natural humor.
WATCH DONKEY FLIES, ITALIAN FILM
In short, Donkey Flies is a heartwarming movie to watch with the whole family. And in this day and age with so much gratuitous distasteful behavior on big and small screens, it’s nice to know there are still good old-fashioned pictures out there.
In Italian, when someone is referred to as believing that l’asino vola, it means that the individual in question is gullible or is a dreamer, living in a fantasy world. We all know that donkeys can’t fly, but a little dreaming never hurt anyone. Marcello Fonte couldn’t have turned out any better. He followed his dreams and the donkey really did fly.
While embracing elements of fantasy, Donkey Flies solidly portrays a child’s reality in the face of a difficult situation, and in the process gives a keen insight into Calabrian life before cell phones, when the neighborhood was one’s world. Moreover, the film is a testament to community and culture having the power to overcome criminality. Today, the band rehearses in a building confiscated from the ‘ndrangheta.
So where can you see Asino Vola in its English subtitled version Donkey Flies? You can rent it on numerous sites, such as YouTube, AppleTV, Amazon and GooglePlay, but if your public library is a member of HooplaDigital, you can now watch it in the U.S. for free!
Buona visione – Enjoy the movie!
Thank you to Rosalba Vazzana for her photos and background on the film, check out her cooking blog Il mondo di Rosalba.
Would you like to visit Calabria? Join me on one of my small-group Calabria Tours!
Read more about the fascinating Calabrian region in my book Calabria: The Other Italy, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an intoxicating blend of humor, joy, and reverence for this area in Italy’s deep south,” and explore Calabria’s northern neighbor in my book Basilicata: Authentic Italy, “recommended to readers who appreciate all things Italian” by the Library Journal.
Follow me on social media: Basilicata Facebook page, Calabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook page, Karen’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for beautiful pictures and information.
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