I’m Not Scared (Italian: Io non ho paura) is a 2003 film directed by Gabriele Salvatores. Francesa Marciano and Niccolò Ammaniti wrote the script, basing it on Niccolò Ammaniti’s successful 2001 Italian novel with the same name. The story is set during Italy’s “Years of Lead”, a time in the 1970s riddled with terrorism and kidnapping, and tells the story of a ten-year-old boy who discovers a terrible crime committed by the entire population of his southern Italian town.
The action of the film takes place in 1978, in a fictional town called Acqua Traverse in Southern Italy, during the hottest summer of the century and the infamous Years of Lead. A nine-year-old boy named Michele Amitrano (played by Giuseppe Cristiano) and a group of his friends set out on a race across scorched wheat fields to a deserted farmhouse. Michele’s sister tags along but falls over, breaking her glasses, and she calls out to Michele, who runs back to her. Michele quickly calms her worries about the glasses, and they continue running. They are the last of the group to arrive at the farmhouse, which means that she and Michele must pay a forfeit. However, the leader of the group, Skull, chooses the only girl in the group apart from Michele’s sister to pay up instead. He instructs her to expose herself to the boys, and she looks to the others for help, but they refuse to meet her gaze. She reluctantly and hesitantly begins to take off her clothes, when Michele pipes up that he was the one to arrive last and he should be the one to pay.
As his punishment Michele walks the length of a beam, high up in a rickety old barn-like building at the deserted farmhouse, and after that the group is seen going home. As Michele and his sister set off, she asks him where her glasses are, and he goes back to fetch them. While searching for the glasses at the farmhouse, Michele discovers a hole in the ground covered with a sheet of metal. He opens it and sees part of a bare human leg; horrified, due to the limited time he had to investigate the situation, he decides to keep this a secret from the others. He feels threatened by Skull and doesn’t want such a big discovery to be taken away from him. The next day, he returns to the place, throwing rocks at the leg. As he moves to pick up another rock, the camera pans to him, on the ground, searching around him in the dirt, where Michele finds another rock to throw. As the camera pans back into the hole, the leg is out of sight. Startled, Michele is suddenly staring down at a zombie-like young boy stumbling out of the darkness and into view. Terrified, Michele hurries home once more, but then his bicycle chain breaks and he is thrown off his bike. As he returns home he is scolded for being late. The next day while playing with friends Michele thinks about the boy and later he decides to visit the zombie-like boy again. Michele finds that the boy is actually alive, although he is very weak. He brings him water and later food. One day, Michele goes to buy bread, to feed the boy. On the way he sees the familiar face of Skull’s older brother driving away from the house and thinks this may be the person who has imprisoned the boy. He returns home, making sure that his own presence is not discovered by whoever put the boy there.
Michele climbs down to collect the bread back from the boy. During this time Michele’s undaunted curiosity leads him to begin questioning the confused, possibly delusional, and traumatized boy. To Michele’s annoyance, the boy thinks he is dead and asks Michele if he is his guardian angel. The boy walks over to him and Michele sees him at his full size, as going crazy the boy cries out “I’m Dead”! He screams louder and louder, making Michele climb back up the rope quickly and return home.
One night, Michele sees his parents watching on the television news that a child named Filippo belonging to the Carducci Family has been kidnapped from Milan, and the boy in the pictures shown looks just like the boy in the hole. He overhears his parents and their friends talking about keeping the boy hidden. The next morning, he discovers his parents are hosting late-night meetings with the parents of his playmates and one domineering visitor “from the North” who now sleeps in his room. Michele, to his shock, gradually comes to realize that his own father is involved in the kidnapping, as well as some other men in the town. He visits the boy and tells him he knows his name and informs the boy of his mother and the message she left on the TV about him. This message was not received well by the boy, who still believes he is dead. Until Michele told him that he is a guardian angel and comes visits him, he promise to visit again. He continues visiting Filippo (Mattia di Pierro) and one day he lets him out for some hours of play in the wheat fields together, and then he returns him back to the hole. To win a toy as a present for Filippo, he barters with his best friend Salvatore for a toy blue van by offering to share a secret, and reveals to him Filippo’s existence, but Salvatore is uncomfortable about the news, even though he surrenders the van and promises Michele that he will not share his secret with anyone else.
On Michele’s next visit to Filippo, he is caught by one of the kidnappers (the older brother of Skull), who finds him in the hole with Filippo and punches him, then hauls him out and drives him home. It turns out that Michele’s friend Salvatore has revealed his secret to Skull’s brother. His parents have contrasting reactions to his being apprehended. His mother defies Michele’s attacker, in defense of her son, but his father, on learning that he has been visiting Filippo, threatens to beat him if he ever goes back to visit the boy again. Michele promises to obey his father. But then one day Skull cajoles his peers into again visiting the farmhouse, where Michele discovers the hole empty and Filippo gone. His friend-turned-traitor Salvatore readily tells him he knows where Filippo has been moved, having overheard his father tell Michele’s father, and will tell him if Michele will forgive his betrayal. The next night, Michele overhears the adults discussing who will kill Filippo, and Michele sets out immediately to find Filippo — who is now in a “cave” — and save him. He hoists him out over a gate and tells him to run for his life, while Michele tries to find a way out for himself with no one to hoist him over the gate. Meanwhile, Michele’s father has drawn the short straw and shows up at the cave to kill Filippo. Michele sees it is his father and runs toward him across the cave just as his father fires his gun, shooting his own son in the leg. In the film’s last scene, Michele’s father runs with Michele in his arms in search of medical aid, as the ringleader from the North (Milan) finds him and insists he has to resume his assigned task of killing Filippo. However, Filippo appears and risks his own danger to show gratitude to Michele, just as helicopters arrive and track down the ringleader trying to escape. The film ends with a repentant Pino clutching his son and Michele reaching out to Filippo.