Review: Il pataffio
- Francesco Lagi’s movie is a ramshackle affair: occasionally strange and enjoyable, it’s mostly characterised by an irregular pace, and suffers from an overbearing film legacy
Italy is represented by a genre film in the Locarno Film Festival’s main competition this year: Il pataffio [+see also:
film profile], which is written and directed by Francesco Lagi based upon Luigi Malerba’s novel of the same name, published in 1978. The feature film follows the misadventures of a troop led by Marconte Berlocchio (Lino Musella) and his new spouse Bernarda (Viviana Cangiano). The two of them are getting ready to take over a fiefdom - the tiny and hunger-stricken village of Tripalle - gifted to them by Bernarda’s father, the King.
The entourage accompanying Berlocchio conceals some peculiar characters, such as the bishop (Alessandro Gassmann), the exciseman and advisor (Giorgio Tirabassi) and two outlandish guards called Ulfredo and Manfredo, respectively played by Vincenzo Nemolato and Giovanni Ludeno. However, once in possession of the fiefdom and castle, Berlocchio begins imposing impossible taxes upon his subjects and requisitions all of their livestock, which had been granted temporary permission to graze upon his land. One night, the livestock and some horses belonging to a handful of soldiers mysteriously disappear. The people’s spokesman (Valerio Mastandrea) is immediately accused of the crime.
Overall, Il pataffio boasts some decent performances (Musella’s talent is clear, and the sly character played by Tirabassi is equally impressive), as well as several clever moments which will make viewers smile, especially when Lagi ventures into the land of dark humour and so-called deadpan comedy. But there’s no shortage of false notes here either, with farts and the more traditional toilet humour thrown in to boot.
In all, Il pataffio lacks the fluidity and flashes of genius required to transform it into an accomplished work. The pace is up and down and suffers from several slow moments, which might have been avoided using better narrative solutions: we’re thinking of the continual toing and froing between Tripalle and the neighbouring fiefdom of Castellazzo, or the burial sequence, which we can’t give more details on without risking a spoiler alert. Even the film’s ending, which is both predictable and rushed, might ultimately leave viewers feeling short-changed.
The film isn’t outstanding on the technical side either, except for Stefano Bollani’s pounding soundtrack, which is both captivating and well-suited to the film’s down-at-heel tone.
It has to be said that the film heritage weighing down on Lagi’s work is undeniably onerous. Despite telling a different story from L’armata Brancaleone, the setting, the style of certain gags, the pastiche of Italian, dialect and “latinorum” spoken by the characters, the veracity of the performances, and various other elements, are all too explicitly reminiscent of Mario Monicelli and echo his work with various degrees of intensity.
As such, comparisons are inevitable, and the film comes out of it smaller, more akin to an acting game, which, if broken down into smaller episodes broadcast on a TV channel or online, and presented as a possible historical pseudo comedy in a Monicellian style, might find itself more suitably positioned, as opposed to a cinema feature film lasting close to two hours.
Nevertheless, Lagi’s attempt to dust off a bittersweet film form from times gone by, to make it his own, and to step outside of the prevailing canons of carefree and optimistic contemporary comedy, is nonetheless appreciable and, to a small extent, a success. Yet the potential of his capable cast is vastly underexplored.
(Translated from Italian)
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