Looking up to older brothers, life choices, respect and loyalty drive A Ciambra by Jonas Carpignano is a follow up to his short film of the same name and 2015’s Mediterranea.

Pio (Pio Amato) is 14 years old, looking to earn respect and be seen as a man. Taught somewhat but also observing his older brother Cosimo, Pio learns about life on the streets, the petty criminality and developing the smarts to deal with the various factions that virtually run the town. When his father and older brother are imprisoned he sets himself up as family head and provider.

A very clever boy is Pio as he manipulates, cheats and cons his way through this patch. However, he just doesn’t quite get the respect he craves; to the family he is still a boy. They are not stopping him pursuing his chosen career path, it’s just too early.

It’s an apprenticeship that sees him deal with the police, the local Mafia and the African community. It’s with the latter that he’s most comfortable, and in particular with Aviya (Koudous Seihon) in whom he feels he has a friend and mutual respect. But, it is at its core about business, deals and priorities as he realises later when decisions have to be made.

Carpignano doesn’t make any judgements on the morals and ethics of any of the characters actions; they are just presented there for debate: if it is wanton criminality or the consequences of a community side-lined by society, having to make ends meet. It’s a blurred line as Pio’s ambitions and aspirations seem blatant though get a little muddied towards the end.

Pio’s family is large and loud, living in semi-dereliction, stealing electricity constantly harassed by the police; it’s not many steps up from total squalor. It’s a tough environment, learning has to be quick, as Pio finds out when he messes with the mob, gets in over his head and takes a hard lesson.

There’s a ramshackleness about the direction using the hand-held camera, which taken with the fact that Carpignano cast members of the real-life extended Amato family, gives the film a gravely, coarse, authenticity.

All told there isn’t that much of a plot, concentrating as it does on the life of the players using the cinematic slices of life/coming of age tropes. That is calculated and deliberate so while it dabbles with the documentary format, it is quite clearly a structured film. Technical issues aside the essential point is that A Ciambra is a compelling film that strips back life to bare basics and its reliance on raw, basic, instincts.