Film Review: SPETTACOLO (USA 2017)

Spettacolo Poster

Once upon a time there was a tiny hill town in Tuscany that found a remarkable way to confront their issues – they turned their lives into a play. “Spettacolo” is a portrait of this 50-…See full summary »

The title of the film SPETTACOLO is the Italian for the word spectacle which refers to a performance or a play.

The documentary is about a small town by the hills called Monticchiello in Tuscany, Italy with inhabitants of 130, according to the film.  The inhabitants practice a unique form of theatre called “autodrama”.  By turning their lives into a play, they confront their issues of their past 50 years of existence.  Their piazza becomes their stage and villagers from 6 to 90 play a part – the role of themselves.  Every issue the town has faced in its history – their near annihilation by Nazis, the disappearance of their farming heritage, the commercialization of their land – every major event has been dramatized and debated by the villagers in the centre of town. The film tells the story of Teatro Povero (“Poor Theatre”), interweaving episodes from its past with footage from the present as the villagers turn a series of devastating blows – financial ruin, rising fascism, a dwindling future generation – into a play about the end of their world.  The audience sees the townsfolk planning their play, debating issues as well as what to present at the performance.  News of the play has also spread over the years so that Italians from all over is it Monticchiello to experience the play.

It all got started with the most crucial event in history of the town.  It was when the Nazis wanted to kill all the inhabitants for supporting the rebels also known as partisans.  But one woman pleaded to the German officer in charge that they were all innocent and never participated or collaborated with the partisans – which was a lie.  And the townsfolk were spared.  

One can hardly tell, to the filmmakers’ credit that SPETTACOLO is an American and not an Italian production.  The film is shot largely in Italian, set in Tuscany and filmed between 2012 and 2016, using a Sony EX-1 camera and a portable Zoom audio recorder.  The film crew also lived in Monticchiello, the small town in Tuscany for six months in 2012 to make the film.  Not only that but they involved the town in their editorial process, showing several rough cuts of the film to the townspeople for feedback.  The result is a very authentic and believable film in which the audience is completely immersed in the 130 population number of the town.

The film also tackles the universal problem of old versus the new, small versus big and tradition (50 years of it) versus the modern.  Here, there is the compromise that benefits everyone.

The filmmakers sacrifices the town’s charm in place of problems and key issues resulting in a film more relevant than just entertaining.

The film’s climax hinges on whether the play will be staged despite all the problems.  The actors are ill-disciplined, there are arguments and financial backers have opted out.  Still, despite the doc’s good intentions and the filmmakers’ diligence, it is really difficult to get drawn into SPETTACOLO.



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