He is a good man, they say, but when he drinks he loses control of himself. And he drinks a lot.
Maybe he’s right. Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis’ rambling, mythical tale opens with a documentary element: a group of old men sitting around a table in a small Tuscan bar, sharing stories and a song about the doctor’s son, Luciano, who once lived in these rooms. From the outset there is a melancholy tone, a reflection on what could have been but was snatched away by fate. his mother made him a bastard, the song goes. Memories vary, but a consistent theme is his resentment and belief that he should have the same rights as any other man. This is, after all, supposed to be a republic. Why shouldn’t he live as he pleases, like any other man, like a prince?
Stumbling around in mud-flecked pants, baggy cotton shirts and a spectacularly wild beard, Luciano (Gabriele Silli) alternates between searing intensity and wide-eyed impotence. he is troubled by the injustices of the world and finds it difficult to take them seriously. His hopes and his downfall rest on two things. One is his passion for Emma (Maria Alexandra Lungu), the daughter of a man who despises him – a young woman happy to accept his embraces but as independent as he is and neither able nor willing to give in to his certainty in all aspects of life. The other is his certainty of having the right to pass through an old gate that the villagers used for a long time to go about their daily business, but which is now closed – we are told – by order of the Prince. In his drunken clarity, Luciano understands this in a way that the other villagers, who cling tightly to tradition, cannot; but what he seems unable to understand is that other human beings don’t behave rationally and trying to force them to do so is dangerous.
The film is divided into two chapters, the first set in the ruined and overgrown village and the second halfway around the world, in the desolate mountainous expanse of Tierra del Fuego: more specifically, an island whose the rivers are poisoned with algae, deterring explorers. A wrecked ship on its rocky coast serves as a reminder, its sailors having quickly met their fate. Here, the exile Luciano, posing as a priest, uses a crab to search for the legendary treasures of the massacred natives, which are said to be hidden in a secluded lake. It’s a wildly romantic setting, made all the more beautiful by Simone d’Arcangelo’s cinematography, but the men who inhabit it are focused on material things. To obtain the wealth that could allow him to return home, Luciano must survive human violence as well as the land itself.
Going from a bucolic European drama to a hard western, moving from the shadows of trees, ruins and castles to a place where everything is exposed under the relentless sky, The Tale Of King Crab passes on a commentary on the will which drove the Europeans to the New World, and on the weight of bitterness and destructive inclination they carried with them. As a place where those who cannot submit to European hierarchies end up, Tierra del Fuego becomes a kingdom of monsters, and at this point – at the beginning of the 20th century – they have nothing left to feed on but some. others. What distinguishes Luciano is that he always retains a sense of poetry, the love of beauty for beauty. All other concerns being put aside, except for the center of his quest, this illustrates his madness. It might give him the edge, inspire him to keep pushing where others fall, but it might also consume him.
A rambling thread with moments of intense focus, this film will appeal to fans of late 19th century adventure novels and more recent South American magical realism. Although he avoids stepping completely into fantasy territory, he is clearly interested in the telling nature of stories and how irrational beliefs shape the actions of even the most stubbornly rational individuals. The Tuscan story of the bastard who challenged the prince has become local legend. Uprooted, cast adrift in a place where the actions of men go unnoticed, it becomes myth. In the process, a man’s desire to live on his own terms appears as mad, as desperate, as necessary as the pursuit of gold.
Reviewed on: Apr 15, 2022