Home News In the mirror of the Crab King – Francesco Boille

In the mirror of the Crab King – Francesco Boille

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A bearded man with a naked torso retrieves a pendant with a sort of half moon from the bottom of a river or lake. Then, unusual reverse, we see him from below looking at the pendant. Or rather, the impression is that but having taken everything starting from the reflection in the water it is evident that the camera actually resumes not from below but from above. The top and the bottom, the right and the back are appearance. The movement of the water stirred by the discovery gradually subsides, the image, almost from an impressionist painting, becomes more defined and finally the bearded man’s face appears. He is frowning, concentrated. We then see him rinsing the object in water: ensuring its clarity, in this sequence filmed against the light, has its importance.

It is the beginning, the short prologue before the title, of one of the revelation films of the last Cannes, the Italian King Crab, the first work of the remarkable freshness of a couple of young directors, Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis. Presented at the Quinzaine des réalisateurs where it met with real success with international audiences and critics and now Out of Competition at the Turin Film Festival, they debut in fiction after some popular poetry and historical-anthropological documentaries. The cast is made up of almost all non-professional actors, but who they knew well from having worked on them in previous documentaries. A sort of film community, mirror of the one told. And their approach to cinema and origins is curious, if you think that one has an American mother and the other was born in Louisiana. Gabriele Silli, who plays the protagonist, is also not an actor but comes from the art world; the exception is Maria Alexandra Lungu who had already worked with Alice Rohrwacher: a notable face who plays the protagonist’s muse.

After the title, we move from heat to winter, from the (presumably) timeless past to the present. An elderly man is framed in the foreground and walks into an inn where we see him taking part in a lunch with friends. The convivial situation is nourished by the past and distant memory in time, by historical events that are legends and vice versa. We are in Vejano, a village located in Viterbo’s Tuscia. They sing: “The doctor’s son is half crazy. He has done justice with fire and fury ”. The song as well as the story concern a certain Luciano, who lived in the late nineteenth century.

Son of a wealthy and influential person for those times, he felt completely alien to the prevailing rules of life, to that environment. A full-fledged opposing bastian. In love with a farmer’s daughter, he ends up annoying the local authorities, the prince of the area, because of his criticism of the almost capricious harassment that the prince makes the community suffer. “There was hunger in Vejano in those days. There were the princes and the poor people ”: explain the elderly hunters, the last exponents of a world that is disappearing before our eyes (inattentive). Then, after this second prologue almost like a documentary, the fiction begins, the story in the past, divided into two chapters located, at the space-time level, at the antipodes.

It really needs to be said, since there is a break, a sudden gash in the narrative: about halfway through the film the story suddenly turns into Spanish and moves to Argentina, to Ushuaia in the land of fire: at the “end of the world” . But here there is a lack of information even more than for the first part and the directors, despite their research, have had to imagine many things because at a given moment “the stories no longer speak of this Luciano”, as the old man of the opening still says: “At the time there was no television, we were around the path and told stories, like that of Luciano”. And another adds: “People tell what they know. The only thing is that if it is told in ten words later, when it is handed down, it becomes fifteen words, then fifty words and in the end it is a little invented and a little bit true. Then go find out which is true and which is false ”.

The film is admittedly this. In evident contrast with the authority that oppresses the most helpless human beings and claims to have only one reason to impose without hearing reasons, an absolute truth and therefore not contestable, structured on contrasts, antipodes and reverses, investigates the origins of the story, of the myth, of its meaning within the community, when it still gathered it for a collective experience of knowledge and human contact, of empathy, just like cinema compared to television. And it is also a narration on the relativism of points of view, on the fact that truth almost belongs to the realm of the unknowable. This is why he highlights, but without didactic redundancy, the thousand streams that the story takes through oral narratives. It goes to the sources of the story, of the myth, as if to rediscover its profound meaning in an age of saturation not only of narratives as such, and which also come from all sides, but of narratives that are often excessively standardized and above all codified. So work on topoi and adventure or western codes, as the two filmmakers have declared, here means bringing them back to the raw dimension of ancestrality, to the basic oral story: since certainly even westerns and pirate stories at their origins were a thousand oral stories, with perhaps a true fact at the base but which then, due to uncontrolled and multiple additions, took a different meaning and directions from the initial one, in part or completely.

We have said to return to the source of the narratives. After all, the element of water, whether clear or polluted, is fundamental here. The water with which to drink, cool off or bathe, the water that surrounds the earth like an island in the middle of the sea, or a lost lake in the Andes that acts as an unattainable myth like the mythical El Dorado chased by the Spanish conquistadors .

Visually sumptuous without ever being licked, rarefied and powerful in the second part, where one thinks of the power of some of Werner Herzog’s masterpieces such as Aguirre fury of God (1972) the Fitzcarraldo (1982). In the first part, immersed in the voluptuous, sweet and sometimes crepuscular light of our country, we think instead, but without mimicking or citing, of countless directors, from Ermanno Olmi to the Taviani brothers, passing through Vittorio De Seta: to his feature films and perhaps above all to his memorable documentaries despite their brevity, because they are both abstract and anthropological, experimental and poetic.

But in the first part, when Luciano and his Lei – with a capital L because it is about Luciano but everything revolves around this girl – walk hand in hand in the countryside, they stop to talk, the images, for their strength and care compositional, they are pure magnificence, pure enchantment. They are painting with many possible references but which coexist in a miraculous balance with the most naturalistic and documentary register without sabotaging it. When the film will be released on DVD or Blu-ray let the player freeze the image on these sequences: some pictures will appear.

This work of opposites that meet and support each other is an impossible, romantic love story, despite the fact that the film is pervaded by social determinism, in turn enveloped by an evocative and spiritual force.

Ultimately, a film that is reflected in the water. And as the reflection in the water overturns things and subverts their right meaning or, conversely, reveals their hidden meaning, King Crab it is a story reversed, in the mirror. An upside-down film to better understand the order of things, their true meaning, or “other” meaning. Perhaps, instead of the chimeras of wealth of legends, it pushes us, metaphorically, to (re) find the lost or hidden paradise: that of purity of soul, of inner truth. And love. The only antidote to the mad obsessive pursuit of power and domination.


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