Candid, raw and poignant – Il Piu Grande Sogno (I Was a Dreamer) explores the challenges faced by an ex-prisoner as he attempts to reintegrate himself into the real world.

It may be director Michele Vannuci’s first feature length film, but it’s not his first time working with this particular lead actor. Several years ago, Vannuci held auditions for his short film An Ordinary Story and that’s where he discovered Mirko Frezza. Although Frezza didn’t make the cut for that particular project, his life story would turn out to be the inspiration for this debut feature film from Vannuci.

Set in the peripheral suburbs of Rome, Il Piu Grande Sogno follows the journey of ex-con Mirko (Frezza) and his struggle to return to life after being in prison. The setting is poignant in it’s depiction of life on the outskirts, based in a poor community filled with people who struggle to get food on the table each day.

Mirko dreams of a fresh start, but he lives in constant fear that his destiny is pre-planned and will catch up with him if he tries to fight it. After being elected the leader of his local community, Mirko relishes the opportunity to speak to other residents and get them on board with rehabilitation programmes. The humanitarian themes of the film are truly moving and show a glimpse into the incredibly real challenges faced by those living in poverty.

Mirko’s intense emotional experiences are shown candidly on screen, as we’re exposed to both his small accomplishments and catastrophic failures; from his delight and surprise at his wife’s pregnancy to his constant struggle with winning his eldest daughter’s acceptance.

Perhaps the most underdeveloped aspect of the storyline is Mirko’s relationship with his own father, Pierino (Vittorio Viviani) – an old-time criminal who represents Mirko’s fate unless he does something to change his ways. Further exploration of this complex relationship would have added event greater depth to the film.

But it’s the moments of undulated joy when the film is at its best. There’s a fantastic scene where Mirko dances with his wife (Milena Mancini) and two daughters at the local community event and his energy is infectious.

This character-driven feature-length debut from Vannuci thrives on the protagonist and his compelling performance. Although the storyline can feel a bit slow at times, there are moments of both humour and tenderness that give the film an undeniable sense of authenticity.

Il Piu Grande Sogno is showing at Lavazza Italian Film Festival which runs between September 21 – October 11. Find out more.

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