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The Amato family in Jonas Carpignano’s “A Ciambra.”

“A CIAMBRA” — 2½ stars — Pio Amato, Koudous Seihon, Damiano Amato, Francesco Pio Amato, Iolanda Amato, Patrizia Amato; not rated; Tower

Jonas Carpignano’s “A Ciambra” is a bleak and moody portrait of a 14-year-old boy who is forced to become the man of his poor Romani household.

Pio (Pio Amato) lives in near squalor with several generations of his Romani family in an Italian slum where a criminal pecking order determines class status and everyone ducks for cover whenever the police roll through town. He’s already steeped in adult vices — he and his siblings have smoked for years, and when Pio drops by the local club, the bartender doesn’t bat an eye before handing him a beer.

As the story opens, Pio’s brother Cosimo (Damiano Amato) is about to initiate him into the family business and teach him how to steal cars. But when Cosimo gets arrested during a botched burglary and winds up in prison along with their father Rocco (Rocco Amato), Pio is left to keep the family afloat financially.

The situation isn’t quite as dire as it seems, since Pio has already developed some handy networking skills that cross ethnic and political boundaries. He is close friends with a young African refugee named Ayiva (Koudous Seihon), even though most of the locals — including Pio’s own family — openly detest their African neighbors. He’ll also need to be able to hold his own with the wealthy criminals on the top rung of the local organization known only as the “Italians."

Pio also has to navigate his own home, which has its own brand of tension. His mother Iolanda (Iolanda Amato) only puts up passive resistance to Pio’s smoking habit and the family’s criminal survival plan, but their debilitated patriarch, Pio’s grandfather, seems much more concerned with his progeny’s future.

“It’s us against the world,” the old man declares.

By employing a lot of intimate, handheld camera movement, and spending much of the film in the dimly lit world of nighttime, Carpignano creates an immersive and moody portrait of Pio’s slum that is bleak and hopeless. Hints of modernity pop up here and there — a smart phone, a flat screen TV or the Audi SUV that transports the “Italians” — but the people of “A Ciambra” seem to live in an almost post-apocalyptic world, far detached from first world familiarity.

The backdrop makes Pio a hopelessly sympathetic character, a figure who seems to be good at heart but appears to have no choice but to slide headfirst into the underworld that surrounds him in order to survive. The conflict between conscience and necessity are made painfully clear at one point when his loyalty to Ayiva is tested.

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By its final reel, Carpignano’s film seems more interested in giving a voice to a bereaved culture than giving it hope, and hope is not going to be the feeling audiences take from the theater. “A Ciambra” is a vivid portrait more than a moving story, and though it connects, it also leaves you feeling a bit empty as the final credits roll.

“A Ciambra” is not rated, but contains scattered R-rated language and some implied sexual content. It is presented in Italian with English subtitles.

“A Ciambra” is not rated; running time: 118 minutes.