Lost and Beau­ti­ful

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LOST AND BEAU­TI­FUL, fan­tasy drama, not rated, in Ital­ian with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles

One of the most pop­u­lar char­ac­ters to come out of the Ital­ian com­me­dia dell’arte is Pul­cinella, a fool with a dual na­ture who can be ei­ther ig­no­rant or wise and is some­times thought to rep­re­sent the poorer classes. Of­ten de­picted as a hunch­back with a long beaked nose, Pul­cinella may act as ei­ther master or ser­vant, and of­ten breaks the fourth wall to en­gage di­rectly with the au­di­ence by com­ment­ing on the ac­tion dur­ing a play.

Lost and Beau­ti­ful, a film by doc­u­men­tar­ian Pi­etro Mar­cello, brings Pul­cinella from stage to screen in a re­mark­able story about a shep­herd named Tom­maso (Tom­maso Ce­strone, play­ing him­self). Tom­maso has vol­un­teered to watch over the aban­doned 18th-cen­tury Royal Palace of Carditello in Italy’s Terra dei Fuochi (Land of Fires), where Mafia in­fil­tra­tion into the po­lit­i­cal sphere has caused un­told damage to the land­scape in re­gional cities and towns. Or­ga­nized crime has taken over the waste man­age­ment busi­nesses. Moun­tains of un­col­lected trash line the roads, and un­reg­u­lated dump­ing of in­dus­trial waste has caused an eco­log­i­cal cri­sis.

This sit­u­a­tion, in­clud­ing that of Tom­maso, is not fic­tion; the first half of the film fol­lows a doc­u­men­tary for­mat. In fact, Mar­cello be­gan the film as a doc­u­men­tary on Ce­strone, who was known as “the an­gel of Carditello,” and who died dur­ing film­ing. Mar­cello then re-en­vi­sioned the project, shot en­tirely on 16-mm film, as a mod­ern fan­tasy. It tells a sim­ple story, an al­le­gory for the search for mean­ing and beauty.

Be­fore his death, To­masso ap­peals to Pul­cinella (Ser­gio Vi­tolo) with a re­quest. He asks the masked char­ac­ter to res­cue a young buf­falo calf named Sar­chio­pone (voiced by Elio Ger­mano) from the palace. To­gether, Pul­cinella and Sar­chio­pone — a fic­tional char­ac­ter who ap­peared in An­drea Per­rucci’s 1698 re­li­gious mys­tery play La Can­tata dei Pas­tori (The Can­tata of the Shep­herds) and other works of Ital­ian lit­er­a­ture — em­bark on a jour­ney across Italy. Their ad­ven­ture af­fords plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for Mar­cello to show us a con­tem­po­rary land­scape rav­aged by in­dif­fer­ence. Sar­chio­pone dreams of a world with­out peo­ple, the cause of the blight he sees all around him.

The film is an el­egy for a vi­sion of Italy that ex­ists, per­haps, as only a beau­ti­ful dream and no more than an ideal. Pul­cinella, who in this story is a kind of Every­man fig­ure, is search­ing for a lost coun­try, nos­tal­gic for a past that may have never ex­isted. In re­work­ing his doc­u­men­tary into a fic­tional nar­ra­tive, Mar­cello takes a gam­ble. But Lost and Beau­ti­ful doesn’t play like it’s a sal­vaged ef­fort; in­stead, Mar­cello sees the op­por­tu­nity to add a mythic di­men­sion to a true story, in­tro­duc­ing universal themes into a nar­ra­tive of na­tional con­cern. — Michael Abatemarco

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