Focus on Davide Manuli: His vibrant film showcased in Lincoln Center’s Open Roads: New Italian Cinema


Established auteurs and emerging filmmakers alike offer their own perspectives on contemporary Italy at “Open Roads: New Italian Cinema”, the leading North American showcase for contemporary Italian cinema, organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center together with Istituto Luce-Cinecittà and Filmitalia. This year’s edition (June 8-14, 2012) brought together directors (1) from different backgrounds and ages, who embody different ideas of cinema and contribute to piecing together a multi-faceted, complex picture of today’s Italy. Among the directors selected for screening, Davide Manuli, a former assistant to Al Pacino trained at the Actors Studios in New York, is definitely the most original, ingenious and audacious one. His latest work, The Legend of Kaspar Hauser, premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January 2012 and went on to screen at a number of prestigious international film festivals. A one-of-a-kind postapocalyptic western, The Legend of Kaspar Hauser is Manuli’s third feature film, following Girotondo, giro attorno al mondo (1998), a film of harsh elegance with which Manuli broke into the art-house film scene, and Beket (2008), a multiawarded “electro-anarchic” reworking of Waiting for Godot, the famous absurdist play by Samuel Beckett. The Legend of Kaspar Hauser is the ideal extension of the aesthetic and poetic discourse of Beket, with an even more radical and nihilist take on it. Comfortable with an expressionist B/W, which has become the trademark of Manuli’s cinematography, he sets the scene in the primordial, or post-apocalyptic, desolation of a nowhere land (the island of Sardinia), a Méliès-like moonscape populated by a handful of grotesque characters, all survivors in the Heideggerian tragedy of “being-there”. The first vibrant frames of the movie show some futuristic flying saucers soaring above the head of a white-dressed, iconic Vincent Gallo, introducing the viewer to the rarefied, timeless dimension where Manuli sets the obscure story of the so-called “Europe’s Child”. The history of Kaspar Hauser, the mysterious teenage boy who appeared in the streets of Nuremberg, Germany, in 1828, unable to say anything but his name, has inspired thousands of books and great movies, from The Wild Child (1970) by Truffaut to The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) by Herzog. Over the decades, this story has been loaded with a number of philosophical, religious and esoteric interpretations. In the film, divided into chapters, Kaspar (superbly played by stage actress Silvia Calderoni) washes up on the beach of a nearly deserted Mediterranean island and is taken into the custody of the Sheriff, an irresistible Vincent Gallo (here in a double, bilingual role): muttering cowboy words, he will take care of boy’s “education”, training him into the art of DJing. Adidas jacket and large headphones on his ears, Kaspar moves jerkily, following the beat of an inner music, which bends his androgynous body and possesses it like a demon. “My name is Kaspar Hauser” therefore becomes the refrain of a breathtaking electronic symphony bound to explode, to cover the noises of the world, to turn Paradise into a Dionysian rave. Over his short stay in the island, Kaspar meets a series of surreal characters, variously arranged along the line of “good” and “evil”: the Pusher (the “other” Vincent Gallo, a “reality” dealer); the Duchess (Claudia Gerini); the Lynchian freak Drago (Marco Lampis); the Clairvoyant (top model Elisa Sednaoui); and the Priest (Fabrizio Gifuni), who is entrusted with the most beautiful and poetic monologues of the film. As the legend unfolds, the hypnotic vibes of Vitalic’s electronic music merge with the natural sounds of the island, punctuating the rhythm of the story and leaving it to its mystery. Whether Kaspar is the heir to the throne of the island or a Messiah shipwrecked on the shore, it doesn’t matter. What matters, the movie seems to say, is the here and now, the liberating ecstasy of a no-tomorrow dance.   Notes 1. Pippo Mezzapesa (Annalisa), Antonio and Marco Manetti (The Arrival of Wang), Ermanno Olmi (The Cardboard Village), Carlo Verdone (A Flat for Three), Michele Rho (Horses), Ivan Cotroneo (Kryptonite!), Ferzan Ozpetek (Magnificent Presence), Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio (Seven Acts of Mercy), Emanuele Crialese (Terraferma), Gianfranco Giagni (Dante Ferretti: Italian Production Designer), Daniele Vicari (Diaz: Don’t Clean Up This Blood), Francesco Bruni (Easy!), Massimiliano Bruno (Escort in Love), Guido Lombardi (Là-bas: A Criminal Education), Davide Manuli (The Legend of Kaspar Hauser), Marina Spada (My Tomorrow), Andrea Segre (Shun Li and the Poet).

Laura Giacalone is the Associate Editor for the Italian Journal.