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ROME 2022

Review: Strangeness


- Roberto Andò’s fanciful film sees Luigi Pirandello finding inspiration for his most ground-breaking work in an encounter with two gravediggers with a penchant for amateur dramatics

Review: Strangeness
Toni Servillo (centre) and Salvatore Ficarra (left) in Strangeness

In 1921, Luigi Pirandello brought his most ground-breaking work, Six Characters in Search of an Author, to the stage in Rome’s Teatro Valle, a play which was so ground-breaking that at the end of the performance, a veritable tussle broke out, in which the audience shouted “shame!”, “madness!” and “fraud!” and made clear their disapproval of Pirandello’s audacious experiment. But how did the idea for this work, which tore down the fourth wall and broke mise en scene rules, come to the great Sicilian playwright, who would go on to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 13 years later? Roberto Andò imagines the answer to this question in his new film Strangeness [+see also:
film profile
, which audiences of the 17th Rome Film Fest were lucky enough to see in a premiere within the Grand Public section.

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The film takes its cue from a real-life event: the journey undertaken by Pirandello (who borrows the features of Toni Servillo) to his native Sicily after several years of absence, on the occasion of writer Giovanni Verga’s 80th birthday (it’s 1920), to which the author of The Late Mattia Pascal had been invited to give a speech. From this point onwards, the director and his co-screenwriters Massimo Gaudioso and Ugo Chiti imagine a hitch which forces Pirandello to linger in his native Girgenti (now Agrigento) for a few more days than planned, following the death of his beloved nanny (Aurora Quattrocchi). And it’s actually within this funerary context that the Sicilian author makes the acquaintance of Sebastiano and Onofrio (comic duo Salvo Ficarra and Valentino Picone), the town’s two gravediggers who help the writer ensure a decent burial for the deceased by day, and who try their hand at theatre by night, directing an amateur dramatics society composed of various fellow townspeople of dubious talent.

Pirandello, who’s in the midst of a creative crisis and in search of inspiration for his next drama, scrutinises, observes, rewrites, climbs down from his pedestal, and allows himself to be swept away (and entertained) by this ramshackle group of actors. And it’s during the premiere of their farce, and by studying the lively interactions taking place between actors and spectators, that Pirandello gets the idea for his new play, which will transcend all of his previous works and mark a watershed moment between modern and contemporary theatre.

The singularity of Andò’s vision is the way in which he strips Pirandello of his (highly deserved) monumentalism, and removes any intellectual density from his creative process, in order to make the latter live and breathe, while continuing to stress the protagonist’s inner restlessness. Strangeness is also “a film about theatre which examines the audience, too”, as the director himself explains: on the one hand, there’s the audience who go along with these farcical depictions, entertained, and on the other, there’s the audience who protest when faced with a new way of making theatre which they don’t yet possess the tools to understand.

Reality and fiction, drama and comedy meld together gracefully in this pleasing and fanciful film, which offers up illustrious cameos (including Renato Carpentieri in the shoes of Giovanni Verga and Luigi Lo Cascio playing the theatre company leader in charge of Six Characters) and rises to the most obvious challenge, as demonstrated by the film poster, of bringing together a serious actor like Toni Servillo with popular comic duo Ficarra and Picone. A “strangeness” which ultimately hits the mark.

Strangeness is a Bibi Film and Tramp Limited production, which sees Medusa Film and RAI Cinema joining forces for the very first time, in collaboration with Prime Video. The film will be released in 450 Italian cinemas on 27 October, courtesy of Medusa. International sales are entrusted to True Colours.

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(Translated from Italian)

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