The Italian

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The Italian
LITTLE MAN, WHITTLE NOW? Spiridonov, right, conducts his own woodworking class.

You can’t be blamed for seeing The Italian’s underage lead—a blond Euro-moppet with a face that could grace a Campbell’s soup can—and thinking that you were in for cherub-cinema sugar shock. But Kolya this isn’t; Andrei Kravchuk hews closer to the spirit of Germany Year Zero and Shoeshine, two movies that wrench your heart yet never sink under the weight of their own street-urchin tragedies.

At the Dickensian orphanage that he calls home, Vanya (Spiridonov) hits the jackpot: An Italian couple wants to adopt him. Then a friend’s birth mother shows up, and Vanya’s mind starts racing:What if my own mom came looking for me? he thinks. After sneaking a peek at his file, Vanya hits the road. The house madam (Kuznetsova), who doesn’t like losing commissions, is hot on the boy’s trail.

Surprisingly, the grimy landscapes and grubby characters don’t automatically qualify Kravchuk’s drama as a downer; there’s an underwhelming slightness to the dour aspects that plays against the prematurely toughened, street-smart youth. But while muted scenarios are always preferable to blatant manipulation, The Italian isn’t entirely satisfying. The movie’s sheen of desperation is ultimately like a shabby coat that, once a hint of sunshine shows up, is too easily discarded. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Fear

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