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FILMS / REVIEWS Italy

Review: Diabolik

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- Despite the iconic, black Jaguar E-Type, the Manetti Bros.’ film based on the Giussani sisters’ noir comic book is wordy, phlegmatic and devoid of brilliance

Review: Diabolik
Luca Marinelli in Diabolik

What went wrong with the long-awaited Diabolik [+see also:
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by brothers Marco and Antonio Manetti (Love and Bullets [+see also:
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), based upon the well-known comic by sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani? We take a close-up look at the film revolving around the ruthless and steely-eyed criminal clad in a black suit and driving an iconic Jaguar E-Type, one of the most widely translated Italian comic books in the world.

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The Manetti Bros. have years of experience under their belts and the film is an independent production backed by RAI Cinema, boasting a considerable budget for an Italian film –10 million euros to be exact. This was a long-planned, industrial-scale project and Diabolik 2 and 3 are already in the planning. It was an “attempt to produce a powerful product capable of making an impact on the market”, producer Carlo Macchitella explains. It’s a laudable attempt to pave an Italian road towards the cinecomic, as has been attempted of late with mixed results, by way of The Armadillo’s Prophecy [+see also:
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by Emanuele Scaringi, based on the comic book by Zerocalcare (whose animated series Tear Along the Dotted Line just dropped to great acclaim on Netflix), The Land of Sons [+see also:
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by Claudio Cupellini, 5 Is the Perfect Number [+see also:
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by Igort, Monolith [+see also:
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by Ivan Silvestrini, The Last Man on Earth [+see also:
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by Gipi, and They Call Me Jeeg [+see also:
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by Gabriele Mainetti (which isn’t actually based on any one particular comic book). With its highly vintage, retro and analogical form, the Manetti brothers’ Diabolik doesn’t seem to pay heed to the tastes of cinecomic audiences, who love action, speed, stupor and dark comedy. Diabolik never takes us by surprise, and the car chases by Italian police officers in the 1970s, whom the directors also drew inspiration from, were far more exciting and technically more daring. “We look to ourselves, in the hope that what we like will also be liked by others. We don’t have any particular target audience”, the Manetti brothers somewhat confusingly stated while presenting the film to the press.

This Diabolik of 2021 can be compared to that created 50 years ago under the aegis of horror maestro Mario Bava, which was designated a flop by Dino de Laurentiis, who produced it (“rather than making a Diabolik like the Giussani sisters’ one, we made a bad 007”), a film which never takes itself seriously, with its terrible script and its sub-par acting, but which is a visual pop-fest, composed of optical-art, psychedelics and dazzling colours (as well as music by Morricone). They’re all features which throw fans of the genre into raptures, obviously including the Manetti brothers themselves (and the Cahiers du Cinéma praised the aesthetic set-up of the film). The modern-day Diabolik, meanwhile, is wordy and overly explanatory, phlegmatic and devoid of brilliance. The utter amorality characterising the comic book protagonist simply fails to come through. The original 1960s setting, with sets and costumes reminiscent of that time and philologically aligned with the comic, doesn’t seem to pay off in cinematic terms. The characters are as deep as the piece of paper they were drawn on. But a film is a film, and a comic is a comic. In this instance, the transmedia narrative doesn’t manage to create a world where the different creative levels and the different means of enjoying the story can successfully join together in one shared narrative context.

The Manetti brothers have been lucky enough to be able to count on actors hailing from the mini Italian star system, along the lines of Luca Marinelli (now known all over the world as a result of his role in The Old Guard), Miriam Leone (in the shoes of Eva Kant), and Valerio Mastandrea (Inspector Ginko, Diabolik’s alter ego), further joined by Alessandro Roja, Serena Rossi and Claudia Gerini. But sadly, good actors aren’t suited to all parts, just like George Clooney wasn’t right for Joel Schumacher’s unfortunate movie Batman & Robin. The Manetti brothers’ directorial approach insisted on a monotone performance to follow the comic book unfailingly, a feat perfectly executed by the actors involved, with the sole exception of Miriam Leone who infused a note of vivacious feminism into the criminal’s fascinating partner.

In Italian cinemas as of 16 December in 500 copies, courtesy of 01, Diabolik is produced by Mompracem and RAI Cinema, in association with Astorina. International sales are entrusted to Germany’s Beta Cinema.

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(Translated from Italian)


Photogallery 15/10/2021: Rome 2021 - Red carpet: Manetti Bros

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© 2021 Fabrizio de Gennaro for Cineuropa - fadege.it, @fadege.it

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