Fellini’s love for circus meets historical revisionism à la Tarantino in Gabriele Mainetti’s sophomore feature which confirms the director’s penchant for deconstructing the superhero subgenre. Passionately antifascist, the film sees brilliant Franz Rogowski jumping into the role of a psychotic Nazi pianist junkie, Franz, whose six-fingered hands make him unfit for the army, but whose virtuosity and lucid visions of the future allow him to perform a cover of Radiohead’s Creep for the visitors of Zirkus Berlin in occupied Rome. (The anachronistic bits, which also involve Moonwalk dancing and the drawing of a Playstation gamepad, may owe to Ken Russell’s gossip-based biopics of famous composers.)
It goes without saying that Franz is the archvillain of the story which takes its cues from magic realism and The Wizard of Oz, with its four protagonists – Matilde, Cencio, Fulvio and Mario – acting as counterparts to Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man. This time though, ‘Lion’ possesses great strength and doesn’t lack courage, it is insect-mastering ‘Scarecrow’ who has to find it; perverted ‘Tin Man’ clowns around even in the most dangerous situations, and ‘Dorothy’ is ridden with guilt for accidentally killing her own mother, still learning to control both her gift and curse that is the electrically charged body. The unlikely quartet of quirky outcasts – sympathetically portrayed by Aurora Giovinazzo, Claudio Santamaria, Pietro Castellitto and Giancarlo Martini – probably couldn’t save the whole world, as they need some help of crippled (not to mention eccentric) partisans led by Max Mazzotta’s chatty Il Gobbo to win the final battle against German army, and they do it with a bang!
Mainetti creates a rich and colorful gallery of characters, continuously emphasizing that they shouldn’t be ashamed of their ‘freakishness’, but rather fully embrace it and utilize its power against evil, while relying on togetherness. Yes, it is a very simple message sent many times before, yet Freaks Out never pretends to be something more than a dark ‘fairy tale’ of friendship against (pathological) ambition, and in that regard, it delivers plenty of charm and a measured dose of spectacle, imbuing its gentle drama with prickly humor, and not shying away from violence, nor turning it gratuitous. The feature’s 140-minutes running time may turn off some viewers, but the technical competence at display – best reflected in the air raid sequence – and well-balanced style that marries the classical and modern keep you glued to the screen.