Written and directed by Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis, co-written by Tommaso Bertani, in the 19th century, a wandering drunkard in Italy is cast out of his village for a crime. He is exiled to Tierra del Fuego, where he searches for a mythical treasure, paving his way toward redemption. Starring: Gabriele Silli, Maria Alexandra Lungu, Ercole Colnago, Bruno di Giovanni, Giovanni Morichelli, Renato Sterpa and Severino Sperandio.
While the opening modern scenes of The Tale of King Crab may feel more akin to a documentary, as it transports itself to 19th century Italy, it’s actually much more evocative of 1970s cinema. Its period costumes and stunningly natural locations have the touch of an epic, but the direction of Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis is much more arthouse. Simone D’Arcangelo’s cinematography holds a compelling richness, adding emotion where the story may be slightly cold. The aesthetic feels somewhat reminiscent of another recent period piece, Laura Samani’s Small Body, but where that deals with deep emotion, this plays out an almost adventure-like folk tale. The choice of locations adds unlimited value, simple shots of the landscapes add massively to the frustrated, lost and pensive atmosphere.
The style of the story is fairly distanced, it doesn’t attempt to dive into its protagonists losses in an emotional manner, it frames them through a lens of legacy and myth. It does however have an overriding theme of desires forever being out of reach, a man constantly a step away from what he longs for. It won’t be for everyone, it’s a particularly specific style of story but it does have a certain charm. It’s one of those stories that may not grab you immediately but it grows on you, finding yourself more invested than you expected. There’s also a sincere sadness running throughout it, with a building sympathy for its unlucky protagonist. The story moves in a slow, tense manner but not in a sense that you’d wish it to be sped up, it leans into the more philosophical qualities of the film.
Choosing that fairly unemotional, yet somehow still charged, style means that you may follow it more for the adventure than for the character. It’s almost as if he’s a facilitator to a larger story than it simply being his own. That said, Gabriele Silli’s performance fits the style perfectly, he has classic qualities of rebelling against tyranny, standing up for the working classes and falling in love above his status. The performance comes out of its shell particularly in the latter half, once he’s moved past his drunken stage, he becomes surprisingly more compelling, holding a strong presence. Maria Alexandra Lungu finally makes another film appearance after making her debut in Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders, and she makes a memorable impression given the brief role. There’s a kindness and lightness about her character, ultimately bound by societal expectation but underneath is a poetic, loving woman.
The Tale of King Crab brings a folk tale to life with lavish landscapes and costume work but it likely won’t be for everyone. It harks back to arthouse cinema of the 1970s with its lush, rich visuals but its story can feel fairly cold at times, although it does hold a sincere sadness and frustration. Its strength picks up in the latter half, moving almost into an adventure style and bringing some new, interesting characters and dangers into the mix. It plays to a specific audience but it’s worth taking a chance on.