The Young Observant




An unusual work that invites viewers to interpret it as they wish and to draw their own conclusions.

Young Observant, The

Responses to this Italian documentary will indubitably be coloured by one's liking or otherwise for the particular approach adopted by the filmmaker Davide Maldi. He has certainly picked an intriguingly off-beat subject for a feature film, but it is one for which his observational style is not in my eyes the most apposite. However, that cannot detract from the novelty value of this close look at life in a catering school viewed largely from the viewpoint of the youngsters enrolled there. It helps too that Maldi, here embarking on his third documentary, had the luck to find in 14-year-old Luca Tufano a youth whose personality and character provide the work with a rich centre. The film also puts a special emphasis on four other youngsters undergoing the same training as Luca, but he is always the one who stands out. 


When I described the piece as observational I had it in mind that it eschews any spoken commentary, but it goes further than that since it never attempts to incorporate footage which through interviews could elaborate on the history and standing of the school in question, Mellerio Rosmini di Domodossola. There are indications that a full course there extends over five years and, while training for a life spent working in expensive hotels and restaurants is the special feature, we see that the education offered extends to such subjects as foreign languages, the Italian constitution, economics and the law. It does seem that many of the students have a personal fascination with food or are following in the footsteps of fathers or uncles, but Luca often comes across as a fish out of water. There are scenes indicative of how he misses the countryside where he grew up but by emphasising night shots in this connection the impact is reduced. Furthermore, we never really know why he was sent there in the first place or how easy it is to get in or how the training develops over such a lengthy time (we stay with Luca and the others during the course of their first year in the school).


Deprived of more detailed information and of any viewpoint other than what the visuals imply, we find that what is conveyed is a lifestyle built on rules that seek to define the character and behaviour of those who hope to become waiters. The schooling is rigid and dedicated to preserving a class-conscious society and it's a set-up which on occasion is viewed with an awareness of its absurd aspects that is worthy of comparison with the comic eye of Sweden's Roy Andersson. Nevertheless, I frequently wanted to be told much more although I did feel that I was getting a view of a world as unique as it was unexpected. Maldi is adept too in his use of music on the soundtrack and, even if I longed for details that were too often withheld, I was fascinated. The film's Italian title appears to translate as the apprentice but the English title goes further since one meaning of the word 'observant' is someone who adheres to the rules of a religion and that kind of imposition is the impression we get here in relation to a lifestyle that Luca questions but may come to accept.


Original title: L'apprendistato.




Featuring  Luca Tufano, Mario Burlone, Lorenzo Campani, Enrico Colombini, Cristian Dellamora, Damiano Oberoffer, Ernesto Alberti Violetti, Stefano Toson, Valerio Beltrami, Claudia Oggiani, Patricia Bafumi.


Dir Davide Maldi, Pro Davide Maldi, Fabio Scamoni, Gabriella Manfrè and Micol Roubini, Screenplay Davide Maldi and Micol Roubini, Ph Davide Maldi, Ed Enrica Gatto, Music Freddie Murphy and Chiara Lee.


Amira Associazione/Slingshot Films/Invisible Film/L'Altaura/Red House-MUBI.
84 mins. Italy. 2019. Rel: 29 October 2020. Available on MUBI. No Cert.