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quietearth [Celluloid 05.18.12] Italy drama mystery

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Picture a flying saucer emerging from the Twilight Zone. It lands on an island, but it's the year zero and the location seems imaginary. The place is filled with mesmerizing inhabitants who behave like exaggerated pop culture icons. The population: 7. This is The Legend of Kaspar Hauser - a microcosmos as viewed through a fantastically warped Warhol lens.

Vincent Gallo, who dons two guises in our story, plays air traffic controller for the UFOs which bookend Legend. We can only guess their purpose as he guides them over the island. Are the character's thawed from some cryogenic freezer inside and unleashed for someones amusement? Do the saucers even bring them? And why is it on an island? Does it even exist? isola is Italian for island and the etymon for isolation which surrounds everything. Is that a metaphor?

The cast is comprised of a royal court of caricatures, each filling some role. There's the Duchess. Her herald is deformed, implying her announcements are as well. There's a few more but let's concentrate on two.

"Attenzione! Attenzione! Move over!" The sheriff (or general), played by Vincent Gallo, is a hyperbolized caricature from a spaghetti western. He revs his dirtbike as he navigates an imaginary crowd. He gets served (read: a danceoff) by his doppleganger, a brooding assassin, to this domain's soundtrack: 90s house music. There's a lot of dancing. A lot. And it's not a musical.

Then there's the Priest, clearly labeled so on the back of his cassock. He's the gunslinger, both literally and metaphorically. As he suffers his crisis of faith, he repeatedly interrogates Hauser looking for spiritual ammo.

But Hauser's nature is as absurd as the inhabitants. He's not a general store or a message in a bottle, he is silly putty that washes up on the beach shortly after the thaw. Is he dead? No, he's an empty vessel. Limp and voiceless, his tether to reality is the pair of headphones he wears. The jack dangles, connected only to the ethos of the island. This mythological "wolf boy" learns as the inhabitants shape him, projecting their own neurotic desires onto him. They each make him their own "Legend."

This is an endlessly bizarre play in which each character makes their own revisions. I half expected it to be different the second time I watched it. The fact that it's shot in high contrast black and white might imply a clear cut scenario, but The Legend of Kaspar Hauser is anything but.

If you dig the avant-garde or the straight up weird, you're going to love The Legend of Kasper Hauser. It's destined for a double dosing of cult status, both for Davide Manuli and Gallo. And don't forget to check out Beket, Manuli's first masterpiece. It's an existiabsurdist piece set in another infinite limbo. (

The Legend of Kaspar Hauser will be having it's USA premier at the Film Society at the Lincoln Center as part of the Open Roads lineup which runs from June 8th through June 14th. It's also playing at the Seattle International Film Festival.

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chuck (10 years ago) Reply

The teaser and your review make me think of Michael Moorecock's absurd Jerry Cornelius stories. Hopefully this will be available soon.


Seriously (9 years ago) Reply

I just saw this at MIFF and it was awful. It's the only terrible thing I've seen all festival and I found myself wanting to walk out at numerous points (rare for me). It was that badly made. I was hoping for weird but when it's this clumsy and amateurish it''s just painful to watch. It might well achieve cult status but that's not to say it's even a passably decent film. Keep your expectations very, very low.

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