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VENICE 2021 Competition

Review: Freaks Out

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- VENICE 2021: Gabriele Mainetti’s second film blends pure entertainment with a reflection on diversity, but its tendency towards appropriation results in a feeling of déjà vu

Review: Freaks Out
Claudio Santamaria, Pietro Castellitto and Giancarlo Martini in Freaks Out

In the opening scene of Gabriele Mainetti’s Freaks Out [+see also:
trailer
interview: Gabriele Mainetti
film profile
]
, Israel (Giorgio Tirabassi), the director of the Mezza Piotta Circus, introduces his phenomena: “You will meet extraordinary creatures, capable of unforgettable and stupefying acts. Nothing is at it seems”. It’s the perfect description of the film, through which the director declares his intent: to pay tribute to the seventh art by way of a bit of a show. In the running for the Golden Lion at the 78th Venice International Film Festival and deriving its title from Tod Browning’s 1932 classic, the film consists of 141 minutes blending pure entertainment with a reflection on diversity, with the onus being on the former. The backdrop of the Second World War provides the director with an opportunity to do exactly what Quentin Tarantino want to do via Inglourious Basterds [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
: to get his hands on the Nazis, adding a smattering of ultrapop dialogues, a dash of brutal violence, an explosive conclusion and the possibility of changing history.

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We’re in the vicinity of occupied Rome in 1943, Italy has surrendered to the Allies and the Germans are headed for defeat. The stars of the Mezza Piotta Circus are Fulvio (Claudio Santamaria), Cencio (Pietro Castellitto), Mario (Giancarlo Martini) and Matilde (Aurora Giovinazzo), all of whom are endowed with special powers. Fulvio is a wolf-man with extraordinary strength and a surly disposition, Cencio can control insects (apart from bees) and Mario attracts metal like a magnet, while young Matilde unleashes electricity and, despite being condemned not to be able to hug the people she loves, will turn out to be the most useful of the group. It’s hard not to think of the X-Men franchise at this point, or The Umbrella Academy, or any one of the recent superhero titles to have invaded our screens, especially those leaning heavily towards comedy. In fact, it proves impossible not to think of these similarities for the entire duration of the film. But it’s an Italian product and it needs to be seen as such. The circus finds itself hit by a German bomb and Israel suggests that the four friends leave for America where they can make a life for themselves as “different people” overseas. Subsequently, however, he disappears with the money and the quartet set out to track him down. Once in Rome, having arrived in the midst of a deportation round-up in the Jewish ghetto, they bear witness to further violence. Disheartened, they decide to join the famous, Nazi-run Zircus Berlin, with the exception of Matilde who is still looking for Israel and who comes across a strange group of mutilated partisans, headed up by Gobbo (Max Mazzotta, a walking comic book character). But hot on the heels of the four freaks is German man Franz (Franz Rogowski), the “Cassandra of the Third Reich”, a crazy Nazi with six fingers on each hand who has visions of the future whenever he inhales ether (as was common in the 40s) and in which he catches glimpses of the Nuremberg trials. He subsequently decides to put together a team of men endowed with superpowers which he hopes to offer up to Hitler to ensure that Germany wins the war.

Most of the ucronic games devised by the screenwriters (Nicola Guaglianone with Mainetti himself) revolve around Franz. His studio walls are covered with sketches of iPhones, Playstation controllers and Philippe Starck’s Alessi Juicy Citrus Squeezer, and our Nazi plays the Radiohead song Creep and Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine on the piano as if they were Schumann compositions. The countless film references go so far as to include Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (notably the famous scene where Anna Magnani follows the truck transporting the prisoners) while the farce-tragedy button is continually pressed in an excessive accumulation of visual elements which Mainetti manages very well but which might prove too much for the viewer. After waiting an incredibly long time for the post-production work on the (excellent) special effects to end, fans of the director’s clamorous debut They Call Me Jeeg [+see also:
film review
trailer
making of
interview: Gabriele Mainetti
film profile
]
won’t be disappointed. Mainetti confirms himself to be a visionary talent, and we look forward to his next work, which will perhaps turn less towards a residual, postmodern form of appropriation cinema which ultimately results in an overall feeling of déjà vu.

Freaks Out is an Italian-Belgian production by Goon Films and Lucky Red together with RAI Cinema, in co-production with Gapbusters and in collaboration with VOO and BeTv. International distribution comes courtesy of RAI Com and True Colours.

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(Translated from Italian)

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