This 40-page book is printed in-house and contains a detailed semiological commentary prepared with the general reader, students and teachers in mind. 

For those who would like to use it as a teaching and learning aid in a classroom situation the film has been segmented into ten sequences of 10 to 15 minutes duration.


SEQUENCE   1          (DVD Chapter 1: 8 mins)


Let the film roll until Michele returns to the old house       

Once the production credits have played the picture fades in and the camera tracks quickly from left to right revealing a damp rocky surface.  It then rests on the title which seems to be scrawled in chalk or scored on a dark rock face.  Drops of water are heard on the soundtrack and a simple piano theme starts up.  It resembles the sound that might come from a child’s toy piano or music box.  To the sound of something rustling, the camera tracks back from the title which consists of a phrase that might be used by a scared child who is trying to convince him/herself that they are not afraid.  The screen fades to black as the camera continues to the right.  It passes over a barely discernible grey blanket which might pass for rock before craning upwards out of what, it is now clear, is a cave or a hole in the ground.  Insects can be heard and a crow sits above the opening of the hole cawing ominously.  Its black colour contrasts starkly with the rich golden tones of the corn that gleams in the brilliant sunlight beneath a clear blue sky.  This scene is shot in one sweeping camera movement.  The first cut in the film comes when the camera follows the girl running through the corn.  This is the starting point of the action of the film.

What the credit sequence has presented us with, apart from the details of the main companies and individuals involved in the making of the film, is a dark, foreboding underground hole.  The way the title is written and the piano theme have associations in our minds with childhood.  Likewise with the title phrase itself.  This scene has also introduced the motif of contrasts: above and below, darkness and light, inside and outside.  The dark palette of blacks, greys and browns that make up the colour scheme of the hole are in sharp contrast to the rich gold and blue of the outside.  The theme of fear has been introduced and the echoes of the horror genre are not far from our mind: the cawing of the crow suggests evil and the world of darkness. 

A girl, Barbara, runs towards the camera.  Her facial expression is ambiguous: is she running scared or just tired out from the exercise?  An energetic musical theme is introduced that contrasts sharply with the simplicity of the opening one: it has an urgency that has a touch of panic to it.  The camera follows Barbara at the height of the corn, establishing a pattern that will continue throughout the film as the action is presented from the point of view of a child.  Another shot from a higher angle shows more children running and the great expanse of corn stretching to the horizon.  The subtitle “Southern Italy 1978” gives us the setting for the narrative in time and place.  Italy is still largely divided into the industrialised North and the poorer, agricultural South, the Mezzogiorno.  The seventies were not a peaceful time  in Italy.  There was a lot of unrest and some criminals and political factions took to violence in furthering their cause.  There were many kidnappings with a view to extorting a ransom from the rich.  The Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, himself was kidnapped by the Red Brigade and eventually murdered in Rome when the conditions of the kidnappers were not met.  This subtitle could be pointing to the history of Italy at the time and suggesting that the action of the film is in some way a retelling of aspects of this civil unrest or is acting as a commentary of some kind on it.  The camera tracks through the corn at the eye-level of the children and its sweeping movement adds to the excitement of what may be a chase.  As it tracks after the boy in the orange top, Michele, we hear a girl’s voice off-camera calling him.  He immediately stops: the call takes precedence over whatever it is he is involved in.  A black crow sweeps up out of the corn in front of him as he turns around, reminding us of the first scene.  One of the children, without breaking his stride, asks him where he is going.  When Michele gets to the little girl, his sister Maria, we find that she has broken her glasses and it is clear, when Michele takes her by the hand, that she cannot see properly without them.  Michele’s childish game has been interrupted by a call to act like an adult by taking responsibility for his younger sibling and another of the film’s themes is introduced: the contrast between childhood and adulthood.

As they follow the other children Michele and Maria come upon the horrific sight of a bloody hen hanging upside down.  Maria’s horror is reflected in the music which stops dead.  Blood is still dripping from the hen’s beak.  Michele reads it as a sign that they are on the right track and not far behind the others.  The cruelty of killing a hen and leaving it like this points to the presence of  casual violence in this world.  The reaction of the two children is a mark of the learned acceptance of this cruelty: Maria is young enough to be horrified by it, Michele is old enough to accept it and read it as a simple sign.  As the film progresses, Maria will become a symbol of childhood and all that Michele is leaving behind as he travels onto the road of adolescence.  The scene ends as the pair walk away from the camera.  The music, which introduced the scene, now acts as a cue to signal its end.

As Michele and Maria follow Salvatore down to the house we can see flowers that correspond to the clothing of all three children: the purple ones to the left and orange ones to the right.  These colours will appear again and again over the course of the film.  They add to the bright palette that make up the colour scheme of Michele’s world and act as a counterpoint to the darkness of the hole that will soon enter the narrative.  The orange poppies  are also growing on the wall as Michele enters the ruined house.  He learns that Teschio/Skull has won the race. He stops in a ruined doorway as a crow calls harshly once again.  A long shot introduces the next scene in which Skull claims the house for himself because he saw it first.  The childish boast of the title might come into our minds on hearing this piece of bravado.  In a series of shot/reverse shots Skull is presented to us seated above the other children, looking down on them.  This reflects his status as he sees it himself and as the others perceive it.  He treats them in a desultory way.  When he claims the ruined house as his, Michele asks why and relents immediately when Skull says “Because I saw it first.”  Barbara tries to bully Michele into paying the forfeit for coming last in the race.  (There may be a slight problem with the translated sub-titles here.  Michele says something like “Chi fare la penitenza/Who has to pay the forfeit/penalty?” but that is rendered as “Who is the rotten egg?”  Later he asks Skull “A chi tocca fare la penitenza?/Who has to pay the forfeit?” which is translated as “Who has to pay up?”)  Barbara shows no such belligerence though when facing Skull: rather, she adopts a defeatist, whingeing attitude knowing that he will get his way eventually.  Her worst fears are realised when the others acquiesce in her humiliation at the hands of the leader.  She says “Non è justo. Tocca siempre a mi/It’s not fair. It’s always my turn!” and calls for a vote to solve the impasse.  This is the first in a series of differences between characters in the film: this sentiment and these very words, ­“Non è justo.”, will be repeated in different contexts in the course of the narrative.  The notion of doing something because one is being forced into it will be contrasted with acting in a certain way because one feels it is the right thing to do: specifically the imperative on Michele to act in a certain way which comes from outside will be contrasted with one which comes from within himself as his conscience develops.  This is one of the main themes of the film.  Barbara’s pleas are useless because Skull controls the group and when he votes that she should pay the forfeit the other children all sheepishly follow his lead.

When Skull asks“Visto/See?”the cawing of a crow is heard almost in mockery of Barbara.  The camera tracks towards him increasing the sense of his power over the group as he annunciates the forfeit.  In an ironic touch, Maria asks Michele what Barbara has to show them.  This is another indication of the difference between herself and her brother: she is still a child whereas Michele is at the stage at which he is becoming aware of the broader world beyond childhood.  A short series of shot/reverse shots shows the balance of power as Skull faces Barbara down and slaps her face viciously.  (This movement of characters within the frame to take up positions of e.g. superiority, equality or subordination can be referred to as choreography and be read as part of the imagery of the film.)  Close-ups of Salvatore and Michele emphasise their sheepishness in acquiescing to Skull.  Resigned to her fate, Barbara begins to pay the forfeit by unbuttoning her skirt.  The cawing of the crow and the hissing of insects seem to make them complicit in the judgment increasing Barbara’s sense of shame.  The camera shows her and her actions in big close-up.  Likewise with the reactions of Michele and Skull: the one becoming more and more uncomfortable, the other glorying in the humiliation of the weakest of the group.  The noise on the soundtrack increases in a crescendo that reflects Barbara’s shame and Michele’s growing unease.  The source of that unease is not made explicit.  It may be that this incident strikes him as vaguely voyeuristic and it may reflect his awakening awareness of his sexuality.  It may be a nagging sense of guilt, of not wanting to be part of this ritual humiliation.  Then Skull’s enjoyment of the spectacle is cut short by Michele’s cry of “Ferma!”  His logic is simple “I’ll pay up.  I came last.”  Something has stirred within him and he is not willing in this case to give in to commands from outside himself.  We know that he is capable of self-sacrifice, because he gave up his place in the race earlier to go back and help Maria.  So he puts an end to this act of casual cruelty.  The killing of the hen and humiliation of Barbara are part and parcel of the world of these children.  Michele accepts this but something in him is beginning to see beyond the slavish subjection of oneself to the injunctions of others.

Michele is framed in the doorway after he breaks into the old house which is clearly in a state of dilapidation.  Skull determines the forfeit: Michele must walk across a beam on the first floor of the house.  The camera is set at a low angle to emphasise the danger Michele faces.  The music starts up as he takes his first tentative step.  He walks carefully and our sympathies are with him.  Skull enjoys Michele’s discomfiture when he almost stumbles on a broken tile that lies on the crossbeam.  Michele resorts to his imagination for courage as he tries to convince himself that he is a lizard man who can walk on any surface without falling off.  Then he tries to bolster his courage by picturing himself as a glass man: he has no option but to make it across because a fall will result in his annihilation.  Dissatisfied with Michele’s successful crossing of the beam, Skull adds another part to the forfeit when he orders Michele to come down by way of the tree outside the window.  Michele obeys without question.  He knows what he is doing is dangerous, but he has been ordered to jump and he feels he must obey.  He crosses himself for good luck as the camera frames him in the window.  Earlier he paused in the doorway of the ruined house and then we were presented with him in the doorway of the upstairs room.  This might form a pattern of imagery that shows him at a stage in his life at which he is moving through portals from one part of his life to another: from childhood to adolescence.

As he perches in the window frame preparing to jump the camera frames Michele in a low angle shot inviting us to empathise with his fear.  In a reverse shot we are shown the view from the window.  At the foot of the tree lies a sheet of corrugated iron with stones at its corners to weigh it down. 

On the way home Maria stops and asks Michele for her glasses.  He discovers that he has lost them.  She tells Michele that  their mother will be mad with him.  He tells Maria to wait there and heads back to the ruined house.  This develops the theme of what it is that motivates Michele.  He is at the stage where his motivating principle is staying out of trouble.  The forces that influence him as a moral being are outside himself.  The camera reprises the corn-high shot of the opening scene as Michele makes his way back to the house accompanied by a tentative  musical theme on plucked strings.  We hear the cawing of the birds as he reaches the house and searches for the glasses.  So the repetition of camerawork and the sound effects round off the first movement of the film in which Michele has taken responsibility for his little sister, saved Barbara from embarrassment by paying her forfeit and, finally, returned to look for Maria’s glasses to avoid a beating from his mother.  Sometimes he performs an action because he feels inside himself that it is the right thing to do; at other times the motivation for his action comes from outside himself.  The movement of the film will see him developing towards adulthood by taking his motivation from what he feels inside in himself to be the right thing and rejecting the childish stance of doing things just to stay out of trouble with adults.