‘The Tale of King Crab’ Review: An Art Film Treasure Hunt

In the Italian town of Vejano, local hunters gather to tell tales rich enough to inspire movies. For the past decade, filmmakers Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis have dutifully documented these sessions—some fact-based, others blurring the lines of reality—and translated them to screen with entertaining films, while simultaneously testing what audiences might believe . The first two, “Belva Nera” (about the sighting of a black panther) and “Il Solengo” (about an enigmatic hermit), were designed as non-fiction portraits, but the latest legend proved imaginative enough to warrant a more narrative approach. And so The Tale of King Crab was born.

This startling account of a curious quest across continents, which debuted in Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes last summer, already feels timeless, like one of Pasolini’s classic allegorical films (‘One Thousand and One Nights’) or Alice Rohrwacher’s more recent, loosely fact-based ‘Happy like Lazzaro.” It’s an old-fashioned literary fable, peppered with shots of grimacing men with sunburnt faces shooting at each other with shotguns that wouldn’t look out of place in a Sergio Leone film. The cast is composed mostly of non-professionals from the area, and while the acting style might seem stilted to American eyes, it fits right into the tradition of Italian art cinema, closer to recognizable human demeanor than the more mannered acting technique we’re used to.

Our protagonist is an outcast named Luciano, played by Gabriele Silli – not an actor but a sculptor who spends most of his time creating large, fibrous monsters with melted skin. The camera loves this lanky, unkempt figure, who looks like what a young Donald Sutherland might look like if he’d been forced into the attritions (and wild beard) of a much older Donald Sutherland. This suits the character well: Luciano comes from an aristocratic family, but is a drunk who flirts with Emma (Maria Alexandra Lungu), the daughter of the local goat farmer, and fights with the prince’s soldiers, for which he collects a shotgun in the air Colon.

It takes a little time to figure out where the Hunters story is going, as directors de Righi and Zoppis ask Silli to recreate scenes of this idle, vaguely Don Quixote-like character causing trouble. (They chose a time that appears to date from the late 19th century to set the story, although without the quirky class dynamic and mention of a prince it could be contemporary.) Instead of jousting at windmills, Luciano has himself a heavy wooden door made an opponent who blocks his way, and rams against it like an irritated bull.

Luciano is angry, but about what is not entirely clear. At the local bar, he gives his money away, saying, “It’s worthless to me. I want to live as I please.” Even Luciano’s father no longer understands his apparently self-destructive son. Here’s a man looking for meaning first, then romance, and finally redemption on the other side of the world. (The film begins in Vejano, Italy, but ends in a remote South American lagoon.) But it’s not until the final scene – in which a man who has renounced wealth finds fortune – that audiences discover the meaning of his treasure hunt.

Halfway through, the film switches language from Italian to Spanish, skipping continents to “the asshole of the world” — remote Argentina, an end that’s far more beautiful than such a nickname suggests, despite the fact that its waters are seaweed and sponge is poisoned Under their boots, the terrain looks almost Martian. A chapter break would make it easy to assume that Luciano’s story had ended and another had begun, with Silli now playing a different character, Father Antonio, but over time the connection between the two will become clear – as will the story’s title.

The group of grumpy, downtrodden sailors have come in search of gold said to be buried somewhere in the mountains. The trick to finding him is to use a spiny red crab as a compass: Born in the lake where the treasure is hidden, the crab crawls back to its home – a charming notion that requires patience that none of these owns duplicitous pirates.

The closer the men get, the less trustworthy they become. And so we get a series of betrayals, culminating in a brutal and somewhat shocking gunfight that’s a far more spectacular payoff than a movie of this style typically delivers. But even without that highlight, the setting alone would have been worth the price of admission, as DP Simone D’Arcangelo ups the somewhat dingy cinematography with shots of indescribable beauty. No one can match that final scene, in which Luciano stands in the blazing sun, as lonely as he first appeared to us, having finally found his purpose in life.

https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/the-tale-of-king-crab-review-re-granchio-1235233136/ ‘The Tale of King Crab’ Review: An Art Film Treasure Hunt

Charles Jones

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