Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PIETRO CASTELLITTO: THE PREDATORS/I PREDATORI (2020) - FLC: OPEN ROADS: NEW ITALIAN CINEMA

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The dark comic dance of two symbolically contrasting families

This riotous, profane film was written and directed by Pietro Castellitto, who is in his late twenties. He is the son of the prolific Italian actor Sergio Castellitto, and already seems a kind of golden boy. He has starred in three films directed by his father and played in three others including Gabriele Mainetti's much anticipated Freaks Out (still in post-production), He is scheduled to play the lead in a Netflix series about the former Roma soccer team captain Francesco Totti. But here, he takes on the top creative role as writer-director besides playing one of the main parts.

Obviously cast as social commentary as well as being a riot of ironic dark humor, The Predators/I predatori is essentially a series of comic skits with a tricky linking narrative, which has won him a a best screenplay award like the one the D'Innocenzo twins got. Both scripts seem to have won their awards for a clever linking structure, in Pietro's case in the Horizons section at Venice, in the D'Innocenzos' in the Berlinale. Maybe, for all its craziness, Pietro's screenplay makes more sense than the D'Innocenzos' as a report on Italian society - though its even more pitch black and mocking incidents are more overtly caricatural than those of Favolacce.

Vulgarity reins here, the giddy, expletive-intense dialogue expressive of American influences (not to be discounted ever in today's Italian culture). A man has "Who gives a fuck" (kittesencula) tattooed in large block letters on his arm. Every other sentence has "cazzo" in it. There is mafioso criminality, gun dealing, and a murder carried out by a young boy who's been getting rifle training.

In an off-putting, self-consciously stylish opening, we hear highway sounds, without seeing the highway, as a series of landscape shots appear. These later will be settings of major scenes of the film; in retrospect, if you remember them, they will make sense. Likewise the alternative sequences of two contrasting Roman families will no longer be off-the-wall when the incident linking the two families takes place. The families are an obvious contrast. The Pavone are intellectual and bourgeois and live in Rome, the oafish Vismara fascist and working class and dwell on the capital's periphery. As they are drawn together by coincidence at the end they will come to seem not so different after all. The link appears and the plot's mosaic puzzle becomes clearer when an old woman, matriarch Ines Vismara (Marzia Ubaldi) of the Vismara with luridly died hair, whom we've seen being conned out of 1,000 euros at the outset for a wrist watch by a mysterious man (Vinicio Marchioni) , is put in the hospital by a driver from the Pavone. Later her relative cancels his revenge plans when he learns it's a Pavone surgeon, Pierpaolo Pavone, who has saved the old lady in the operating room. At the film's end the mysterious man appears again, about to con, more thoroughly, one of the Pavone women.

The action otherwise often seems to hinge on an outré project to exhume the remains of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, to find by analysis of them why he went crazy and experienced other events, based on the theory that his remaining a lifelong virgin was a key factor. Director Castellitto plays a nutty intern, the tall, skinny, dressed up Federico, a Pavone from a pampered background who sets out to sabotage the Nietzsche project and harms himself in the process, thanks to the quantity of explosives he has bought from Claudio Vismara.

Another series of scenes involve the female Pavone film director who begins to become increasingly unhinged following a mishap in the staging of an army deserter's hanging when the actor's harness stops working.

The Vismara and Pavone are depicted as societies unto themselves and both seen collectively having feasts. At the Pavone's the celebration ends with a young woman performing a "song" she has composed that is an expletive-intense rap that makes fun of everyone present and ends with her walking out - giving them all the finger.

Federico Pavone is a strange, argumentative 25-year-old philo student obsessed with Nietzsche and abused by his professor. His father Pierpaolo (Massimo Popolizio) is a doctor with a mistress Gaia (Anita Caprioli) married to colleague and friend Bruno (Dario Cassini). Federico's mother Ludovica (Manuela Mandracchia) a well known film director shooting a historical film that has ruh into trouble. Her motto comes from Mike Tyson: "Everybody has a plan till they get punched in the face."

More overt loudness and vulgarity reign when the Vismara are on screen and their world is dominated by fascist songs and symbols. The Vismara have a big outdoor feast at a long table. Claudio (Giorgio Montanini, a standup comic and Carlo (Claudio Camilli) Vismara run a firearms store and also deal drugs and cooperate with the mafia. Uncle Flavio (Antonio Gerardi) keeps them in check. Their wives Their wives (Giulia Petrini, Liliana Fiorelli) fantasize about moving to luxurious Rome center flats.

And they can be funny. A Vismara husband wants to have sex with his wife and she doesn't. When she says "I have a headache" he answers: "I wont' touch your head." This and the hospitalized old lady's string of fluent replies to family members' questions from her hospital bed are the two things that most made me laugh. The rest, though inventive and energetic, tries too hard to be clever but its scrambled mixture of incidents fails to truly engage - though admittedly, some also said that of Pulp Fiction when it came out - and they were so wrong. I still wonder if the helter-skelter arrangement of details about these two hitherto unrelated families is really justified by the transparent linking plot devices of a car accident and several other incidents. But given the wealth of talent on display here it doesn't matter, since followers of contemporary Italian cinema will want to see this movie anyway to see the direction it is going.

The Predators/I predatori 119 mins., debuted at Venice Oct. 2020 in the Orizzonti section (best screenplay award), playing also at Rome, Busan, and Thessaloniki. Best new director award at the David di Donatello awards; other nominations. Screened online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021).

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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