Ribena and vasectomies were the stuff of the dad-lit phenomenon spearheaded by Tony Parsons and Nick Hornby a few years ago. Italian actor Kim Rossi Stuart’s impressive directorial debut strays into similar territory with altogether less sugary results. Eleven year-old Tommi (Alessandro Morace) lives with his dad (played by Rossi Stuart) and older sister.
Their mum – we learn from coded conversation at a family get-together – has walked out on them but when she shows up on the doorstep of their Rome flat, tears flowing, they let her back in. What follows is the compellingly observed tangle of family life.
By the skin of his teeth, Rossi Stuart holds back melodrama, showing us how kids are so often clear-eyed witnesses to their parents’ worst behaviour. Both children give natural performances, lovely to watch, Tommi rebuffing his mum’s needy and clumsy affection.
When she disappears again his sister (Marta Nobili) tries to become a stand-in little wife to their dad. But it’s Rossi Stuart who steals it as their flawed father, affectionate one minute losing his rag the next. Hyper-critical of his son, he is also capable of teddy bear-ish affection. ‘Am I made of honey?’ he sweetly asks when the kids clamber onto his bed. A little over-long, ‘Libero’ loses its rhythm towards the end but still remains a thoroughly convincing portrait of a family.