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Film Scratches: the Beguiling Play of Illusion – Gelateria (2019)

Gelateria1

Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.

A Review by David Finkelstein.

Gelateria is a fascinating and strange new feature film by Arthur Patching and Christian Serritiello. A surreal picaresque tale, the seemingly fragmented and capricious story unfolds with the inevitable logic of a dream, a dream which dwells on the many difficulties and dangers of being an artist. As in a dream, too, objects and people keep transforming though associative logic: a plate of spaghetti becomes a rope; a bird becomes a young woman. The acting style is often lurid and expressionistic rather than natural, which further emphasizes the film’s dream-like quality. The dream is brought to vivid life, thanks to the bravura acting of the large ensemble cast, the excellent cinematography and editing, and the beautiful original score by Jack Patching.

Gelateria4At first, the film centers on Zbegniew (Serritiello), a scared-looking young man on a quest to explore the crippling shyness and shame he’s felt since childhood. As the film progresses, the focus shifts to various other protagonists: an Italian actor who moonlights as a waiter, an anarchist chanteuse, a woman with the voice of a bird, and an older female painter. But all of these stories are variations on the story of an artist who faces great dangers and obstacles. If the film is Zbegniew’s dream, he is simply visualizing his quest in a number of different versions, adopting different personas in order to explore different obstacles he faces. The final character, the painter, is played in turn by each of the film’s authors, Patching and Serritiello, as if to emphasize the idea that the film’s artistic project is the same as her artistic project. The painter’s artistic quest takes her to a “distant island,” to recover her paintings from an unscrupulous art gallery which lured her (through an internet scam) to mail them off for a fake exhibit. The painter must travel a great distance in order to recapture her images, and apparently Zbegniew likewise has to change both gender and age in order to become an artist.

Each of the film’s episodes shows an artist confronted with the perils of creativity, whether it is the danger of revealing your weakness to an audience, the difficulty of fighting against the stifling expectations of one’s family, or the danger of being misunderstood, like the Italian actor who is hired to perform for an audience of idiotic rich people on a yacht, who don’t even understand Italian, but merely want the romantic sound of the language to stimulate their pathetic orgy. (The yacht owner is is portrayed with magnificent creepiness by Daniel Brunet.) .Being an artist is not a job for the weak-minded.

Gelateria3Throughout the film, music is the force that unleashes chaotic, uncontrolled and violent emotions. An accordion player at a mock funeral excites a vicious dog, and it attacks the painter. A flamenco guitarist in a theater drives the actors into a fury that destroys their performance. An anarchist in an art gallery unleashes violence by making everyone join in a rousing anthem. Clearly, music provides a direct link into one’s emotions, and this can be a tricky and dangerous business.

Gelateria compares the artist’s journey into the unconscious to a journey into the land of the dead, as in the film playing in the art gallery, of a man riding a bike into the ocean, an apparent suicide. A musician sings “they say you have to be brave, but I tell you now it’s all in the grave.” The painter’s favorite among her own paintings is called Ghost. Art is an attempt to glimpse what lies beyond our daily existence.

The film ends, as it begins, by the ocean. In the last sequence, the painter’s attempt to escape from the island is depicted as a puppet show for kids, performed on the beach. The struggles of artists are a distraction, an amusing Punch and Judy show, meant to entertain innocent toddlers. The film takes the Hindu view that our troubles are merely maya, illusion. But one of these toddlers isn’t so innocent; he takes a swipe at the puppet representing the painter, and knocks her out of her illusions.

Gelateria2Gelateria itself is a prime example of this dialectic of maya and brahman, illusion and reality: engrossing, turbulent, moving, but full of contradictions and confusion which ultimately point our attention away, towards the eternal reality behind the ephemeral illusion. As viewers, we may be as innocent as babes as we enjoy the spectacle, but this film encourages us to look through the puppet stage, towards the waves.

David Finkelstein is a filmmaker, musician, and critic. For more information on Film Scratches, or to submit an experimental film for review, contact lakeivan@earthlink.net.

Read also:

Film Scratches: Symphony of Bugs – Flesh City (2019)

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