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Based on the real life story of Sardinian writer, poet and professor of linguistics Gavino Ledda, who was deprived a basic education by his domineering father at an early age and forced into becoming a shepherd to support his family, enduring terrible loneliness and hardship while single handedly protecting the livestock as well as the cruel punishments of his father. In essence it's the story of the father and son's troubled, often violent, relationship and Gavino's ultimately successful attempts to escape the shackles of his poverty and the influence of his father/master.
Made by the Taviani Brothers in the 70s for Italian television the story is a simplistic one, but compelling and often troubling. However the strength of the story is let down because of some clumsy and now dated film-making. The Sardinian landscape is muddily shot, the dubbing and sound quality is poor and several scenes stretch credulity or taste. It is true that the shepherd boys, starved of contact with the opposite sex, practised bestiality but the comical, flippant way it is presented will more than likely trouble or repulse many viewers. Similarly Gavino experienced violent beatings at the hands of his father including whippings with branches that permanently scarred the boy - here we can see Omero Antonutti (excellent and convincing throughout as Father) barely connecting with soft branches that would do no harm whatsoever - it's a scene more likely to evoke laughter than horror as father and son run in circles around their shepherd's hut. There are obvious ways to shoot scenes like this to make them more powerful or believable but the decision of the directors to show these elements realistically inevitably diminish the film.
Elsewhere there are some interesting ideas, well executed; the real Gavino Ledda introduces and concludes the story, giving the actor playing his father the stick he carried the day he was taken out of school, blurring the line between the semi-documentary style and the fictional act of recreating the event. A battle of wills between boy and goat is wittily told in voice over. And the most famous scene of the 20 year old Gavino, having physically defeated his father and asserted his superiority, attempts to retrieve his suitcase from under his father's bed to leave for good: their final interaction is powerful, surprising and skilfully handled. That other elements of the film are less successful is a shame, but Ledda's story is worth discovering regardless of that criticism.
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Currently in 3 official lists, but has been in 5