Lost and Beautiful
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
Send in the Pulcinelli