Rotterdam Review: Vincent Gallo's Unhinged, Dual Role Performance Can't Save Pretentious 'Legend Of Kaspar Hauser'

Reviews
by Brandon Harris
February 3, 2012 10:47 AM
5 Comments
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Disco, flying saucers, long-haired Sheriffs who speak in the lilting accents of American southerners on Italian beaches. You can’t fault director Davide Manuli for trying. He throws everything at the wall that is his update of “The Legend of Kaspar Hauser” and if only a tiny fraction of its sticks than so be it. I admire him for trying. Not that there’s much else to admire.

It’s hard to know who’s responsible when a film goes as deeply, terribly wrong as this one. Based on the German urban legend of sorts about a teenage boy that appeared in the streets of Nuremberg in the 1820s and was quickly taken to be of royal lineage despite the fact that he claimed to have been isolated in a darkened cell for much of his development, it is the scandal of this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, where it had its world premiere this week.

Shot in handsome black and white on the beaches of Sardinia, Manuli’s film features perhaps the mostly deeply unhinged performance of Vincent Gallo’s increasingly strange career as a film actor. Or shall I say pair of performances, as the always caustic actor, director, writer, musician, provocateur stars as both as the aforementioned English speaking long-haired Sheriff  (perhaps the films most sympathetic character, although using that adjective is a stretch) and the Italian speaking, white jump suit wearing, motorcycle riding assassin sent to dispose of Mr. Hauser.

The Sheriff initially finds Hauser washed up to sea on some oblong Italian beach and takes him in after carrying his limp form -- which is emblazoned with “Kaspar Hauser” on his pale chest -- back to his compound, where he locks Hauser in a cage, teaches him how to ride donkeys and generally showers him with something resembling compassion. Although in a story this oblique and uninterested in real or even thoughtfully abstracted human consequences, what does compassion even mean?

Manuli allowed his actors to improvise much of the dialogue, but rarely has so little form been employed by a director using that technique; at times the text feels like a parody of Thomas Pynchon as written by a stoned Italian high school student who has been the better part of his senior year watching "Gummo."

Silvio Calderoni, who plays the bleached blonde title character, seems at a loss as to what to do with the material (or lack thereof), but he has a spastic energy that the film, had it been at once more rigorous, serious (with a small S) and thoughtfully comic, could have more effectively tapped into.

Shot in the longish takes that signify Serious Cinema to citizens of festival-circuit-land, the movie is a pop bonanza; I almost wish it had been direct by Madonna, but perhaps even she couldn’t have outdone Manuli in the garish pretension and perfume ad aesthetics categories. Still, its almost worth the watch just for the terrific score by French house music star Vitalic and as a reminded of just how good the Werner Herzog version of this same story truly is. [D+]

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5 Comments

  • nanoubix | October 29, 2012 6:25 AMReply

    Agreed! The most hollow, pretentious film I have ever seen. Vincent Gallo and all these guys that think they're so hip, so underground are the perfect bunch of dicks, and the women that let themselves being objectified on the screen by those dicks, aren't worth the paper their stupid image is printed on. Laughable attempt at art house cinema. Postmodernism gone wrongly baaaaad.

  • Christopher Bell | February 24, 2012 1:01 AMReply

    This movie is pretty terrible. I agree with the review.

  • matteo garbagnati | February 6, 2012 11:25 AMReply

    I'm not surprised that the critic is so negative because there won't be any possible decent critisism able to decode such a movie.
    For my experience is not just a film but a real journey! Really happy to have watched it two times! Even though I didn't know anything about the original story, as I'm just "audience", it grabbed me deeply and literally hypnotized, with the playing of the actors, with the consistent absurdity of the scenes and the amazing Vitalic

  • Emirjame | February 5, 2012 5:46 AMReply

    Writings like the above always make me happy that I am not a spoiled and overtly intellectual film-critic - bus just "audience". Saw the movie & enjoyed every minute of it: the music, the acting, the landscape & they ways in which the black and whites where used throughout the film.
    I just absorbed the images, not easy to say much about it in words - but can still evoke many of them & it is now 2 days later!

  • vitalica | February 3, 2012 2:03 PMReply

    i love Vitalic so i guess i'll be seeing this one

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