A boy and his shark
It was because of my friend Lucy, that is growing restless while we wait for The Meg to hit the screens.
She did a post on an online magazine about shark movies, and she mentioned something that crawled back from my memory like a celluloid ghost – Ti-Koyo e il suo pescecane, a 1962 movie by Folco Quilici, known in the English-speaking world as Tiko and the Shark.
I had very vague recollections of the film, that I saw sometimes in the early ‘70s, when I was 7 or 8 years old.
I checked out Wikipedia for more info about the movie, and found a snippet of the original review, published in 1962 by La Stampa, the daily newspaper of the city where I grew up.
With its fairytale background, the film often has an intoxicating airiness, a pungent kindness; but it could and should become saturated with only the friendship with the shark, as a symbol of an escape from time. Instead, it gives the protagonist the second company of a beautiful little Chinese woman, who for love of the beautiful boy embraces the wild life. This is a coup out of Tarzan; Quilici charged too much the spectacular side of his film proposing a consortium man – woman – shark, really utopian for those who know the true female character. Just like he abused monologues.
The bit about the true female character and its connoisseurs, plus the snub aimed at Tarzan, convinced me that I needed to rewatch the movie, and write a post about it.
While based on a novel by Martinique writer Clement Richer, and on its adaptation written by noted Italian fantasist Italo Calvino, the movie changes the venue of the action, from the waters of the Martinique to the Tuamotu Islands, in French Polynesia.
Opening with some dramatic, documentary-style footage that pits men versus shark, the film tells the story of the unlikely friendship between a Polynesian boy, Ti Koyo, and a young great white shark.
The movie is extremely simple in its plot, but has two factors working for it that elevate it above the simple entertainment.
On one side, most probably thanks to Italo Calvino, the story manages to infuse a mythical element in what is, at its core, the daily life of a community of fishermen.
A sophisticate intellectual and a lover of myths and their narrative structures, Calvino twists not the story, but the way in which it is told
The opening narration (in a voice-over provided by Paolo Ferrari, one of the great voices of Italian stage and screen in the 20th century) informs us straight away that the story we are about to see is to many just a legend. But, at the same time, the man speaking in the voice-over is the protagonist, telling his own tale in flashback.
Go and talk about unreliable narrators.
The second factor that makes this movie unique are, of course, the underwater scenes, shot by a crack team of photographers on loan from the magazine Mondo Sommerso, Italy’s foremost underwater adventure magazine.
Folco Quilici, director and screenwriter for this project, shows his technical chops and his narrative style in what is basically a kid’s movie.
Indeed, the story, with its simple tale of man/animal friendship – with a side serving of romantic pains thanks to the Chinese girl mentioned in the review – set in a community of poor fishermen, might be a little too light-weight for adult viewers, but the underwater shots and the general documentary style of the film make up for the naive story.
And yes, the 1962 review is ghastly, and so misogynistic that it makes its racism take second place. Horrid, really, considering the movie is anything but racist or sexist.
One wonders at the opinion vented by the critic about the general character of women – the sort of creatures that would laugh in the face of romance were it to include life on a pristine island without modern appliances and beauty salons. Or something equally sick. Even in 1962, people were supposed to be better. As for the monologues, considering the movie is narrated by the voice-over, one wonders what the critic expected.
In the end, is Tiko and the Shark it worth a glance?
Yes, most certainly – and if you have young kids, they are probably going to love it. The copy available on YouTube is in Italian, and the quality is pretty poor. And this, really, is a pity.