As the film opens, Gianni (Kim Rossi Stuart) prepares to meet for the first time the child he fathered 15 years earlier. The boy, Paolo (Andrea Rossi), was born with cerebral palsy and is of below average intelligence as well as being physically handicapped. Paolo's 19-year-old mother died when he was born, and Gianni could not bear to see the baby, or to have any subsequent contact with him. Paolo has been raised by his uncle, the dead woman's brother. Now Gianni, who lives in Milan with his wife and baby, prepares to take Paolo to a rehabilitation facility in Germany.

Paolo is trusting and does not question Gianni's long absence from his life. He manages to walk with the help of a cane, and tries to function as independently as he is physically capable of. When Gianni tries to feed him with a fork, Paolo responds by feeding Gianni instead. Many such small gestures that Paolo makes towards Gianni loosen Gianni's reserve, and each begins to respond to the other with affection.

In Germany, neither Gianni nor Paolo understand the language--in this they are equally disadvantaged. Gianni meets Nicole (Charlotte Rampling), mother to a teenage girl whose palsied speech impairment makes her unintelligible to anyone except Nicole. From the way that Gianni interacts with Paolo, Nicole senses that Gianni is Paolo's father, although Gianni at first denies it, claiming he is a friend of the family. When Gianni finally is truthful with Nicole, and worries about how Paolo will survive as an adult, she warns him that suffering is inevitable for the parent of an impaired child.

Gianni is horrified by the intensive physical therapy regimen to which Paolo is subjected in the German rehab facility, and removes the boy from therapy. He decides to bring Paolo home with him, but as they are driving back to Italy, Paolo "acts out" and Gianni realizes to his great sorrow that Paolo wishes to return to his uncle and live as he has for the first 15 years of his life. He has the keys to the house he grew up in and doesn't want to give them up.


This is a sensitive, beautifully made film that  works subtly to explore complexity in the lives of disabled children and their families.  The relationship that develops between father and son is moving and at times very funny. The interaction between Gianni and Paolo is so natural, it seems the actors are not acting. The character of Paolo is shown with all his strengths and "problems" to be fully human. The character of Nicole, a mother with 20 years of experience caring for a severely disabled child, is complicated. She serves as a translator for Gianni. Not only does she literally translate between Italian and German (she also speaks French), she is a translator of parental life with a disabled child to Gianni, who has had no experience with it. Ultimately, she articulates some harsh thoughts: in light of her suffering, why doesn't her daughter die, she asks. Yet one must question whether it is the daughter or Nicole who suffers most, since the daughter has been shown enjoying herself among hospital staff. Members of the disability community recommended this film as being realistic and sympathetic.


In Italian, with English subtitles. Based on the novel by Giuseppe Pontiggia. Director Gianni Amelio also wrote the screenplay. Silver Ribbon Award for best director (Italy); Venice Film Festival Awards for best film and best actor (Stuart)

Primary Source

Lions Gate Home Entertainment